Health Minister Robin Swann extends powers which would allow for future Covid restrictions

The Health Minister has extended powers under the Coronavirus Act which would allow Covid restrictions to be put in place in the future.

Robin Swann said he had received legal advice which allowed him to extend the powers, which could allow for domestic restrictions or international travel regulations to be put in place.

"In the continuing absence of a functioning NI Executive, it has again fallen to me as Health Minister to decide whether to extend these powers for a further period," Mr Swann said in a written statement.

The minister said, however, that he has no plans or desire to introduce any further restrictions.

"I am extremely hopeful that the question will not arise, given the trajectory of the pandemic, the success of our vaccination campaign and the effective Covid-19 treatments now available through the health service," Mr Swann said.

"Furthermore, there is at the very least considerable uncertainty as to whether I would have the power to unilaterally introduce fresh restrictions, in the absence of an Executive.

"It is one thing to retain the powers to make regulations, it would be another matter entirely to decide to use such powers.

"The choice is whether to allow the powers to lapse at this stage, or to retain them as an option should they be required at some point in the future.

"I am advised that to allow them to lapse would be problematic on a number of grounds.

"Without these powers, Northern Ireland would be out of alignment with the rest of the UK in the event that health protections measures are needed to be brought in at pace in response to a new Covid-19 variant of concern.

"The Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Scientific Adviser have advised that the risk of such a new variant emerging cannot be excluded.

"I therefore believe allowing these powers to expire could bind the hands of future Ministers and the next Executive.

"After due deliberation, I have therefore opted for a further six month extension. I have asked my officials to draft the necessary order, using the powers under s90 of the Coronavirus Act 2020 and under the confirmatory resolution procedure.

"This ensures the legislation can take legal effect upon ministerial signature pending approval by the Assembly," Mr Swann added.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know.