Covid-19: North’s Minister for Health calls for all-Ireland stance on international arrivals

Robin Swann voices concerns over ‘inability’ of North and South to share data on arrivals

The North’s Minister for Health has written to his Irish counterpart asking him to consider the introduction of new laws to track the movements of international travellers across Ireland.  File photograph: Ana Ferreira/Bloomberg

The North’s Minister for Health has written to his Irish counterpart asking him to consider the introduction of new laws to track the movements of international travellers across Ireland. File photograph: Ana Ferreira/Bloomberg

 

Northern Ireland’s Health Minister Robin Swann has urged Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly to consider a Dublin/Stormont agreement to track international travellers across the island.

In a letter to Mr Donnelly, seen by The Irish Times, Mr Swann expressed concern over the “inability” of the two jurisdictions to share information on international arrivals amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Controls over arriving international passengers is “perhaps the area in need of greatest co-operation North and South” and key to managing Covid-19 in the next few months, he said.

“To that end I believe it would be helpful if we could address together the inability of our two jurisdictions to capture and share information about international passengers transiting through en route to the other region.”

Currently international travellers arriving into the North via the Republic are required to complete a passenger locator form on arrival and to self-quarantine for 14 days if arriving from a high-risk country.

However, there are “serious impediments to enforcing or monitoring this” as it was up to individuals to complete the form and there was no way of tracing them if they did not.

“The logical solution is to ensure that all international travellers landing on the island of Ireland provide data which is accessible for compliance checks in our respective jurisdictions,” Mr Swann wrote.

‘Rapid resolution’

Seeking a “rapid resolution” in talks, Mr Swann said a data-sharing agreement “would be a significant achievement” that would show both sides were working together to “address common challenges”.

The Department of Health in Dublin said consideration was being given “to how to further enhance co-operation North-South in regards to overseas travel, including in regards to additional information-sharing”.

It said this was part of efforts to have intensive follow-up with passengers arriving from overseas, adding that Dublin and Stormont were in regular contact about Covid issues.

Contact tracing continues to operate on an all-island basis, and information is being shared North and South, though there are significant differences in travel regulations on both sides of the Border.

The UK rules – accepted by the Northern Executive – are less stringent than those in the Republic, with non-essential travel permitted to about 60 countries and no requirement for self-isolation on return.

The UK has imposed no coronavirus-related restrictions on movement within the Common Travel Area – which covers Britain, Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.

However, anyone arriving into the Republic of Ireland from Britain must self-isolate for two weeks. There is no restriction on movement within the island of Ireland.

On Thursday the Northern Executive called on the Irish and British governments to call a summit of the British-Irish Council to address inconsistencies in relation to the Common Travel Area amid the pandemic.

Fatalities

Meanwhile, data published by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra) on Friday showed that the number of deaths involving coronavirus in the North has reached 850.

This is approximately 35 per cent more than the figure of 556 total fatalities recorded by the North’s Department of Health during the same period (until July 17th).

Department of Health figures include only those who previously tested positive for coronavirus, whereas the Nisra figures based on death certificate information include cases where there may or may not have been a positive test for Covid-19.

Just in excess of 50 per cent of deaths were among care home residents, according to Nisra.

Five deaths occurred last week, while the total number of coronavirus-related fatalities reported by the Department of Health remained at 556 on Friday.

Fifteen new cases of Covid-19 were identified in the North in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of cases identified there since the beginning of the outbreak to 5,891.

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