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Ministers' concern over spread of Covid variants


Michelle O'Neill

Michelle O'Neill

Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

Michelle O'Neill

The First and Deputy First Ministers have expressed concern over the spread of Covid variants in Northern Ireland, stating that discussions around restrictions for international travellers arriving here need to conclude swiftly.

Speaking during a press conference yesterday, Michelle O'Neill said that the latest figures indicate that the UK B117 variant of the virus has become more common in Northern Ireland.

Arlene Foster added it is now believed to be accounting for between 40% and 50% of cases here.

Currently, Executive guidance states that anyone travelling into Northern Ireland who plans to stay for at least 24 hours should self-isolate for 10 days, although there are exemptions, such as for people who routinely cross the border for essential purposes.

Coronavirus Data Graphs

Mrs Foster would not be drawn on whether ministers are considering mandatory quarantine for those arriving from Great Britain, adding that the common travel area "has served us very well throughout all of this".

"We have had conversations around international travel, particularly from those areas where the new variants seems to be prevalent and I think it's important that we conclude those conversations as quickly as possible and cut down on the variants coming into Northern Ireland," she said,

Mrs Foster said that at the minute, there is no evidence that the South African or South American variants are in Northern Ireland "in any great numbers" and those strains are the ones the Executive and health officials are most worried about.

"While the Kent variant is here, we can use the vaccines that we currently have on it. The worry is we don't know if the vaccines work against those other two variants in an effective way.

Ms O'Neill said it is "very concerning" that the Kent variant is becoming more common here as it is "significantly" more transmissible, and this reinforces the need for everyone to limit their contacts.

"I think it's best we try and align the issue of travel (between GB and the island of Ireland) the best we can to try and protect the two islands as much as we can from these new strains that are coming in from further shores," she said.

"We need to continue to conversation and finally crack the issue of travel and get it right."

Meanwhile, fines for non-completion of UK passenger locator forms have been increased from £60 to £500.

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