A Sinn Fein proposal to temporarily ban travel from Britain on Monday failed to pass through the Northern Ireland (NI) Assembly in a divided vote, as over 40 countries cut off travel to the UK after a new variant of the CCP virus was identified in the South of England.
As a compromise, the NI executive unanimously supported a proposal by Health Minister Robin Swann, which advises against non-essential travel, and asks new arrivals from Britain and the Republic of Ireland to self-isolate for 10 days.
“Pleased that Exec has agreed my paper tonight, including immediate guidance against all but essential travel between NI and GB/[Republic of Ireland], with all new arrivals here asked to self-isolate for 10 days,” the Ulster Unionist Party minister wrote on Twitter.
“More work needed on option of legal travel ban, both legally and logistically—vital supplies to NI and essential travel need to be protected,” Swann added, in response to Sinn Fein’s push for an immediate travel ban.
A number of Sinn Fein lawmakers said they were disappointed with the result.
“We are facing a very serious situation with the emergence of this new COVID variant in Britain. SF proposed travel ban to protect citizens & health service,” Michelle O’Neill, deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland wrote on Twitter.
“I am disappointed this proposal did not receive Executive support.”
Colm Gildernew, Chair of the Health committee said he preferred an immediate ban.
“It would have been preferable to have seen the ban in place and deal with any issues in parallel rather than wait,” Gildernew told BBC Radio Foyle on Tuesday.
Swanned told MLAs on Monday that most travels from Britain to NI would be essential travels as England had already banned non-essential travel in and out of tier four areas, where the new variant is the most prevalent, and England, Scotland, and Wales had advised people to stay local.
Stormont on Sunday decided to reduce the five-day Christmas bubbling period to one day only. Three households can gather on one of the days between Dec. 23 and Dec. 27.
It also announced on Friday tighter restrictions for six weeks from Dec. 26, when no household mixing is allowed except for support bubbles, and hospitality, close contact services, car washes, and retail business deemed non-essential will be closed. Homeware stores and garden centres are no longer deemed essential, but dog groomers and fuel suppliers have been added to the “essential” list.