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The Stormont Executive has cut Christmas bubble meetings to just one day, it has been confirmed.
In a statement issued at 1.30am on Monday morning, they said they had “taken the difficult decision to limit the arrangements for people to come together over Christmas”.
The confirmation came after a meeting of the Executive at 9pm on Sunday night.
In their statement, they added: “Christmas bubbling will now be reduced to one day only on a date between 23 and 27 December, to ensure flexibility for those working on Christmas Day to choose an alternative day that suits best.”
They say Ministers discussed “the progression of the pandemic and were updated by the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Advisor on the emergence and rapid spread of a variant strain of the virus ”.
No travel ban has been announced. However, they added: “The safest place for everyone to spend Christmas is in their own home and people are strongly advised to stay at home for Christmas. Those who feel they need to meet with their bubble should keep it as small as possible, as close to home as possible and keep the visit short.
“Follow public health advice rigorously. Keep your contacts to an absolute minimum; keep your distance; wear a face covering; and wash your hands.”
The Executive added that they are “urging everyone to travel only if it is absolutely necessary”.
They said: “Travel is not permitted in or out of Tier 4 areas in England. Restrictions apply in other tier areas. Everyone should comply with all travel restrictions in place for each region and check the guidance at both the point of departure and destination.
“The Executive also discussed the issue of restricting travel and Ministers agreed to consider this further when they next meet. In relation to schools, Health and Education officials continue to liaise closely to consider how schools can operate as safely as possible.
“As this is a rapidly evolving situation, the Executive will continue to keep all matters under review.”
It is understood Executive ministers debated amending the 1967 Public Health Act to introduce short-term travel restrictions.
Sinn Fein 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.
Sources also say it was pointed out that the UK Government has already said people living in the worst affected areas “must stay at home and not leave your Tier 4 area, other than for legally permitted reasons”.
It is understood Health Department officials were asked to undertake further work to examine issues around restricting travel into Northern Ireland.
News – Stormont publishes details of latest Christmas Covid measures