The Northern Ireland Executive has met set to discuss a decision to introduce quarantine requirements for those arriving in the region from Spain.
Health Minister Robin Swann announced the measure on Saturday night, in line with the rest of the UK, with the rule change coming into effect in a matter of hours.
He said the decision “was not taken lightly” and was intended to keep people safe.
There is no ideal time to make such a decision. A phased introduction would not have made sense. Public health considerations must take priority.
Mr Swann requested a meeting of the Executive to discuss what support or advice may be required for those facing the 14-day quarantine.
Afterwards he appeared before the Assembly to answer an urgent oral question about his decision to introduce the 14-day quarantine for those arriving from Spain.
Some returning from Spain on Monday criticised the move and expressed concern about the potential impact on their employment. Mr Swann told MLAs that his decision was supported by the Executive and had been based on detailed scientific information.
"The evidence was considered so strong that delay was not feasible, the risk to the Northern Ireland population was too great to delay another day," he said. "I will continue to make decisions based on scientific information to determine which countries may be removed or added to the exemption list and will move quickly to remove any country when the evidence supports this. "The health and safety of the people of Northern Ireland is my main priority."
Watch: Deborah McAleese speaks to some of those travellers affected:
Referring to the meeting of the Northern Ireland Executive, Mr Swann said the new quarantine was the only item on the agenda. "The Department for the Economy and the minister for the economy is now engaging with employers to make sure there is flexible support to those people who have been in Spain and now face a 14-day quarantine," he said. "The Department for the Economy is also going to engage with the travel insurers. The Department of Finance and the minister of finance is going to engage with his counterparts in Westminster in regards to furlough to see if anyone who had been furloughed could re-engage with furlough when they do return from Spain, so that there is as many support mechanisms in place as possible. "Again the minister for communities will see what additional packages of support that are within the remit of the Northern Ireland Executive, and the Executive Office will look at updating information on NI Direct so that anyone who is currently in Spain or intending to go to Spain can actually get all that information in one central location."
Mr Swann also said the Department of Finance is exploring whether the furlough scheme can be used, while the Executive Office is updating advice on NI Direct.
Watch: Judith Hill has reaction from a local travel agent at Belfast International Airport:
Foreign Commonwealth Office guidance
“FCO is advising against all but essential travel to mainland Spain – this does not cover the Canary Islands or the Balearic Islands because travel advice is based on the risk to the individual traveller and Covid infection rates are lower there than mainland Spain.
“People will still need to self-isolate when returning from anywhere in Spain as well as the Canary and Balearic Islands because self-isolation arrangements are put in place on the basis of risk to the UK as a whole.”