Stormont ministers are to issue guidance advising against non-essential travel between Northern Ireland and both Great Britain and the Irish Republic after a bid for an outright ban on GB travel was voted down.
People arriving in Northern Ireland will also be advised to self-isolate for ten days.
A Sinn Fein proposal for a temporary prohibition on travel between Northern Ireland and Great Britain was defeated during an emergency late night virtual executive meeting, the PA news agency understands.
The meeting was convened at short notice after health minister Robin Swann circulated a paper responding to the emergence of the Covid-19 variant in which he recommended issuing guidance against all but essential travel rather than proceeding to an immediate ban.
It is understood the DUP, UUP and Alliance opposed the Sinn Fein proposal while the SDLP supported it.
After that was rejected, ministers then agreed Mr Swann’s recommendations without the need for a formal vote.
The paper tabled by the health minister also called for further preparatory work to examine legal issues around the introduction of any travel ban.
He drew up the proposals following consultation with Northern Ireland’s attorney general on the issue of travel restrictions.
After the meeting, Mr Swann tweeted: “Pleased that Exec has agreed my paper tonight, including immediate guidance against all but essential travel between NI and GB/RoI, with all new arrivals here asked to self-isolate for 10 days.
“More work needed on option of legal travel ban, both legally and logistically – vital supplies to NI and essential travel need to be protected.”
Pleased that Exec has agreed my paper tonight, including immediate guidance against all but essential travel between NI and GB/RoI, with all new arrivals here asked to self-isolate for 10 days. 1/2— Robin Swann MLA #StopCovidNI (@RobinSwannMoH) December 22, 2020
Ahead of the executive convening, Sinn Fein finance minister Conor Murphy wrote to Mr Swann expressing “dismay and astonishment” that he was not moving immediately to instigate a ban on travel between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
Mr Murphy called on Mr Swann to reconsider the position he had set out in his paper.
Ministers have been debating the possibility of amending the 1967 Public Health Act to introduce short-term travel restrictions.
While Sinn Fein supports the move, the DUP insists that UK internal travel is already prohibited from Tier 4 areas in England, so there is no need for added Stormont legislation to enforce that.
Earlier on Monday, DUP First Minister Arlene Foster warned of serious ramifications if a travel ban was introduced.
We are facing a very grave situation. The Executive must meet tonight. There is no time to loose in agreeing a travel ban from Britain. Belfast and Dublin must act together to keep everyone on this island safe. #COVID19— Michelle OâNeill (@moneillsf) December 21, 2020
Mrs Foster said the new strain of coronavirus has probably already arrived and warned that supply chains could be endangered by restricting travel.
“It is a very simplistic thing to say, ‘let’s close Northern Ireland off’,” she said.
“That has ramifications and as First Minister I have to take all those into account as well.
“I have always tried to be proportionate and balanced in everything that I have done through this crisis, and I am going to continue to do that.”
On Monday evening, Sinn Fein deputy first minister Michelle O’Neill tweeted: “We are facing a very grave situation.
“There is no time to loose (sic) in agreeing a travel ban from Britain. Belfast and Dublin must act together to keep everyone on this island safe.”
Her party leader Mary Lou McDonald tweeted an identical message.