Christmas bubbles cut to one day in Northern Ireland

A general view of Stormont at night.
The rest of the UK have also reduced their Christmas bubble relaxations after the new Covid variant was described as 'out of control'.

The Executive has agreed to reduce the five day Christmas bubbling arrangements in Northern Ireland to just one day.

Three households will now only be able to come together for one day between the 23rd and 27th of December, giving flexibility to those who are working on Christmas Day.

The decision was made by Stormont ministers during an emergency executive meeting on Sunday night.

During the virtual meeting ministers were updated on the rapid spread of a variant strain of the virus, by the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Advisors.

Ministers also debated the potential of a temporary ban on travel from Great Britain to Northern Ireland in response to the new variant of Covid-19 that has taken hold in other parts of the UK.

No decision was made during Sunday night's meeting and ministers are expected to return to the issue on Monday.

Sinn Féin supported the move however practical issues were raised around how quickly such a ban could be introduced, given the time it would likely take for the Department of Health to draw up regulations to bring it into effect.

The DUP position was that UK internal travel is already banned from Tier 4 areas in England, so there is no need for added Stormont legislation to enforce that.

The party believes the responsibility for stopping flights and ferries within the UK is an issue for the UK Government and has also raised concern that Stormont could leave itself open to compensation liabilities if it was to legislate on the issue.

It is understood the Health Department is to seek further legal advice on the issue ahead of the executive resuming discussions on Monday.

The Health Minister Robin Swann is due to give an update to the Assembly on Monday afternoon.

In the meantime the Executive has urged people to travel only if it is absolutely necessary.

The Education Minister will give an update on Monday afternoon. Last week Peter Weir said schools would reopen in the first week of January.

On Sunday, Northern Ireland's Department of Health confirmed another 13 people with Covid-19 had died in a 24-hour period, bringing the death toll to 1,196.

A further 505 new cases of the virus were also reported in the region.

There were 421 patients with Covid-19 in hospitals, including 30 in ICU.

The Northern Ireland Executive decided last week to impose a six-week lockdown from December 26.

The first week of the measures will see the toughest lockdown yet in Northern Ireland, with a form of curfew in operation from 8pm, shops closed from that time and all indoor and outdoor gatherings prohibited until 6am.