The UK Government has announced that it is to suspend the travel corridor system until at least 15 February. This will come into effect from 4am on Monday 18 January.
Travel corridors operate on a four-nation basis and the decision will see Northern Ireland amend regulations to remove the approximately 64 countries, islands and territories remaining on the travel corridor list.
In parallel, the list of exemptions to the self-isolation requirement is stripped-back to only those necessary to maintain the critical flow of goods, protect essential services or facilitate Government work.
Northern Ireland’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr Michael McBride, said: “The Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) have said that the underpinning methodology for Travel Corridor decisions was designed for assessing the public health risk from wild type SARS-COV-2 and not for assessing the risk from imported variants.
“Given the risk is now increasingly weighted towards the latter (given its vaccine rollout programme) the JBC cannot provide the same level of assurance through the current Travel Corridors process, as it is not possible to predict with any certainty the risk that a particular country or region will be the originator of a variant of concern.
“This move is designed to provide time within which to reassess the position on international travel and develop a system better able to respond to the risk of new variants; this work will be done in collaboration with the Scottish Government, Welsh Government.”
Regulations and an amended list of exemptions is being developed and will be published over the weekend.
This should not remove the exemption for the Common Travel Area, so that travel between the UK and Ireland and across the land border would be unaffected by these measures.
These steps would mean all arrivals other than those on the short list of exemptions would be required to isolate for 10 days on arrival into the whole UK.
The Northern Ireland Executive will also work with the UK Government to facilitate urgent conversations with the Irish Government to improve data sharing from Dublin, to minimise the risk of a back door emerging through the land border.