Plans underway for a Northern Ireland pilot scheme to test air travellers returning from Covid-19 hot spots
PLANS are underway for a Northern Ireland pilot scheme to test air travellers returning from Covid-19 hot spots.
The Department of Health confirmed it is working on a scheme as pressure grows from the aviation industry for a fast and reliable way to determine who needs to quarantine after foreign travel.
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.
Eight major UK airports have called for the governments to urgently introduce coronavirus testing for arrivals and the aviation industry has denounced the present travel policy as "a millstone around their neck".
There are health concerns about the current system too, with the Irish News revealing this week that health authorities in Northern Ireland do not have a record of the numbers entering the jurisdiction from high-risk countries.
A department spokeswoman said officials "continue to explore testing as a potential means of reducing the self-isolation period for returning travellers from non-exempt countries".
"Work is ongoing to develop a local pilot of this approach to inform any future legislative and policy change."
More than 30 countries already have a system of airport testing for Covid-19, including France, Germany, Greece, Austria, the UAE and Iceland.
An airport testing facility was set up at Heathrow last month, allowing up to 13,000 people a day to be screened, but according to the London Times the unit is not operational because government had refused to agree that those with a negative result could avoid quarantine.
The PSNI yesterday issued the second fine for a breach of the travel restrictions - three days after a Co Fermanagh man was sanctioned for visiting an Enniskillen bar after coming back from holiday in Spain.
Health authorities are struggling to grapple with the fraught issue of overseas travel quarantine amid splits between the approaches of the north, the Republic, England, Scotland and Wales.
This week Northern Ireland chose not to change its guidance on arrivals from Greece and Portugal - exempting passengers from quarantine restrictions after they fly into the jurisdiction.
London is also keeping those countries on its `green list', but officials in Scotland and Wales are imposing 14 days of isolation on arrivals from Portugal in a bid to slow the spread of Covid-19.
Scotland is also including Greece on its quarantine list, while Wales added seven Greek islands.
Greece is on the Republic's `green list', but Portugal is not.
A Scottish government spokesman said the London announcement on Portugal came "before ministers from England, Scotland and Northern Ireland met and before considering the latest Joint Biosecurity Centre data", adding the figures "indicated a significant rise in both the prevalence of the virus in Portugal and in test positivity".
Welsh health minister Vaughan Gething said it is acting "in line with" the risk assessments from the quarantine on arrivals from those areas.