Covid-19: People crossing Border for haircuts and hospitality would be ‘breaking the law’

North-South disparity in Covid-19 situation a ‘concern’, says health minister Robin Swann

A total of 59 people are being treated for Covid-19 in the North’s hospitals. File photograph:  Niall Carson/PA Wire

A total of 59 people are being treated for Covid-19 in the North’s hospitals. File photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

Northern Ireland’s Minister for Health has warned people from the Republic who might travel North for haircuts or hospitality once the Covid-19 rules ease later this week that they would be breaking the law in their own jurisdiction.

Robin Swann told The Irish Times that there were “still travel bans in the Republic of Ireland” and that coming to the North to access such services would be “non-essential travel outside a county boundary”.

“That’s my understanding and my reading of their regulations,” he said.

The disparity in the Covid-19 situation on either side of the Border was a “concern”, Mr Swann said, but would not have an impact on plans to ease restrictions in the North.

Close-contact services including hairdressers and barbers are due to reopen in the North from April 23rd, with all retail reopening on April 30th. Unlicensed cafes and restaurants will also be allowed to reopen for outdoor service only on the same date, as will beer gardens.

‘High risk’

The chair of British Medical Association’s Northern Ireland Council, Dr Tom Black, gave a similar warning, saying his “biggest concern” was the “high risk” of people crossing the Border to shop once non-essential retail and hospitality reopened.

“We know this because we’ve done this before last year, and we saw Lifford Bridge being very busy with Donegal people coming into Northern Ireland to shop in Primark.”

Describing the north west of Ireland as “one community”, he said this was part of the reason infection rates were currently so high in Derry and Donegal.

As of Wednesday, the infection rate per 100,000 of population in the Derry and Strabane area over the last seven days stood at 119, more than double the figure anywhere else in Northern Ireland, though Mr Swann said on Wednesday the indications were that this increase had plateaued. In Donegal the 14-day incidence rate was 215 cases per 100,000 people, the highest in the State.

“Every time we’re successful in driving down the rate people start mixing more,” Dr Black said. “They don’t adhere to the restrictions and success leads to complacency and complacency leads to failure.”

Vaccine impact

However, he said the impact of the vaccination programme was evident in the age of those contracting Covid-19, who were predominantly younger people.

Speaking at a Department of Health briefing on Wednesday, the North’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr Michael McBride, said that any differences across the Border “undoubtedly will present challenges from a scientific and a public health perspective”.

While infection rates and the progress of vaccinations on either side of the Border were “slightly out of sync”, Dr McBride said, “to control the virus on the island we need to continue as we are doing, to work very closely together” and to continue to vaccinate as quickly as possible.

He emphasised the long-established, close working relationships between the authorities North and South, and said there was “regular engagement”.

One more person with Covid-19 has died in the North, bringing the total number of fatalities to 2,137, the Department of Health said on Wednesday. A further 116 people tested positive for the virus. A total of 59 people are being treated for Covid-19 in the North’s hospitals, with nine in intensive care.

As of Wednesday morning, 1.174 million vaccine doses had been administered, including 876,290 first doses. About 90 per cent of over 50s have so far been vaccinated, with jabs available to anyone aged 35 and over.