First Minister urges ‘common sense’ around cross-border travel

First Minister Arlene Foster has urged anyone considering a leisure trip across the border to Co Donegal to use common sense and not try to “game” coronavirus rules.

The comments come after a joint statement by the Chief Medical Officers for Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland appealing to people to avoid non-essential cross-border travel.

Co Donegal has been placed under a three-week period of tightened restrictions by the Irish Government while across the border the area around Londonderry is recording the highest Covid-19 infection figures of anywhere in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland’s Dr Michael McBridge and the Republic’s Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn met on Friday morning to review the situation.

In a joint statement, they said: “We would appeal to everyone to avoid all but necessary travel across the border.

“It is also recommended that employers on both sides of the border make every effort to facilitate employees to work from home in so far as is possible.”

The CMOs noted specific concern with regard to the significant proportion of cases in young people in both Donegal and Derry.

They urged everyone on both sides of the border to adhere to public health advice to keep themselves and others safe – but particularly appealed to teenagers and those in their 20s and 30s to reduce their social contacts.

The CMOs have said close collaboration will continue between relevant authorities in Northern Ireland and the Republic to address "the concerning trend" in case numbers on both sides of the border - not just in the Donegal and Derry areas, but also in other areas along the border "where the profile of the disease continues to evolve".

First Minister Arlene Foster, whose own Fermanagh constituency is adjacent to Donegal, said she had a "very good conversation" about the situation with Taoiseach Micheál Martin.

“Obviously, because of the fact that Donegal runs right down the west of the province in relation to the border, there's a need to have practical co-operation and we discussed that last night,” Mrs Foster said, speaking in Enniskillen.

“And as you know, the two chief medical officers have released a statement as to how it should be managed, that people shouldn’t be going between the two different jurisdictions, unless there’s an exempted reason for doing so.”

In a message to anyone considering a cross-border leisure trip at the weekend, Mrs Foster added: “I would advise them not to go because I don’t think that that is essential travel, and it’s certainly not an exempted part. ”

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill noted the “alarming” speed at which case numbers had risen in Donegal.

“I think it shows that the virus is still with us,” she said.

“It shows that the virus spreads at an alarming rate. It shows how quickly people’s fortunes can turn around.

“What we need now is a very strong response to that and I welcome the fact that, you know, measures have been put in place immediately.”