Northern Ireland news

Calls for NI health authorities to take over tracking of passengers arriving from Covid-19 hotspots

Passengers leaving Belfast International Airport in July ahead of the Executive's decision to introduce quarantine for those arriving from Spain. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire

THERE have been calls for health authorities in Northern Ireland to take over the tracking of passengers arriving through ports and airports, after The Irish News revealed Stormont does not have a record of the numbers travelling from Covid-19 hotspots.

Passengers arriving at the north's two airports are supposed to `quarantine' for 14 days if they have flown from anywhere outside the 'green list' of low to medium-risk countries.

Holidaymakers have been scrambling to return from Portugal this week amid speculation it could be removed from the exempt list following a spike in cases.

Despite health minister Robin Swann being designated to publicly announce which countries are on the green list for travel to Northern Ireland, his department has told The Irish News it has no involvement in the tracking and verification of those in quarantine.

It could not provide details of how many passengers from non-green list countries have entered since regulations were brought in on June 8.

And despite running Northern Ireland's `track and trace contact centre', the Public Health Agency is not involved in collecting or collating data.

By contrast, in the Republic, the Department of Justice has published data detailing the number of passengers from non-green list countries and how many had been contacted to check their compliance with Covid-19 regulations.

Passenger locator form data, handed in on arrival in the north, is held by the Home Office Border Force which shares the details of those required to self-isolate with Public Health England (PHE) - not Northern Ireland's Public Health Agency (PHA).

The PHE told The Irish News it "calls a random sample of eligible UK arrivals to ask them for assurance they are self-isolating as well as providing advice on Covid-19 symptoms and what to do if they experience them".

It "randomly samples" 1,000 arrivals per day into England and Northern Ireland and calls are made by one of the PHE's contracted Information Assurance Service (IAS) operators.

Any concerns are passed on to Border Force who alert the PSNI.

However, the Home Office has not been able to provide numbers of those flouting the regulations.

Alliance health spokeswoman Paula Bradshaw said it is past time for the vitally important information to be collected locally.

"The Alliance Party has cautioned for some months now that the public health authorities are not receiving the information they need from the UK Home Office concerning who is entering Northern Ireland at ports of entry," she said.

"As long ago as July I recommended adding a tracing system for all people leaving our ports and airports, which could be carried out directly by the Public Health Agency and would at least enable some tracking capability for those entering Northern Ireland."

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