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Stormont ministers 'frustrated' on lack of progress on travel locator forms with Irish government

Northern Ireland ministers are frustrated over a lack of progress on travel locator forms with the Irish government, First Minister Arlene Foster has said. 

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said it's now "a matter of urgency" that an agreement is reached on the issue and said she regrets it has not happened before now.

Mrs Foster said quite a large number of travellers may have entered Northern Ireland via the Republic over Christmas and added the forms are important to monitor the extent of this.

"Ministers have asked us to elevate the matter and raise it again urgently with the Taoiseach," she said, calling for an end to the "long-running saga" at a press briefing in Dungannon.

"The common travel area does serve us well and has done for years, but we need heads of government to come together so we have agreed to pursue meetings with the Taoiseach, the prime minister and ourselves and that needs to happen as a matter of urgency," said Mrs O'Neill.

The Executive has now agreed to introduce pre-departure testing for international arrivals into Northern Ireland.

"This means that anyone arriving into Northern Ireland who has been outside of the common travel area within the previous 14 days must have evidence of a negative test in the last 72 hours," said Mrs Foster.

Mrs Foster said the requirement for these travelers to self-isolate for 14 days on arrival in Northern Ireland remains in place.

Meanwhile, the reproduction rate of Covid-19 has been reduced to "between 0.7 and 0.9" in Northern Ireland, thanks to the efforts of people from "all walks of life", she said.

"It gives us time to push ahead with our strategy and roll out our world class testing and vaccination programmes," she said.

To date, 102,701 people have been vaccinated and almost three quarters of care homes have had second doses.

In the community, 21,000 in the over-80 age category have been vaccinated by GPs.

It's now expected that by the end of the month all care homes, health and social care staff and over 80s will have received their first dose.

"It makes us one of the top-performing countries across the globe," Mrs Foster said.

But Mrs Foster said she does not have a "crystal ball" when it comes to predicting when restrictions will ease.

"None of this is inevitable," she said, adding that ministers will be advised by the medical and scientific advice.

The deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said she wanted to commend the teams behind Northern Ireland's Covid-19 vaccination programme, some of whom are working seven days a week.

She says 97% of care home residents have been vaccinated with their first dose and 72% have received their second dose.

"I think that's really remarkable," she said.

Earlier, Mrs Foster said it was "incredible" and "frankly unbelievable" that some people continue to host house parties and social gatherings during the pandemic.

Speaking at the briefing, Chief Constable Simon Byrne said the PSNI continues to issue in the region of 40 penalty notices a day.

He warned that if people continue to flout restrictions by having house parties, they can expect "firm and swift enforcement".

"We won't turn a blind eye when people break the rules," he said.

Belfast Telegraph