Northern Ireland news

Stormont ministers meet to discuss latest Covid-19 surge

Parliament Buildings, Stormont

Stormont ministers are meeting to discuss the latest Covid-19 surge.

Northern Ireland has been hit with record numbers of cases of the virus due to the Omicron variant.

The case numbers have sparked staff shortages, with the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service saying a quarter of its staff are unavailable to work.

Testing capacity has also come under pressure.

Earlier this week, it was announced that, as a temporary measure, positive lateral flow tests will not need to be confirmed with a PCR test.

Earlier this week, chief scientific adviser Professor Ian Young said as many as one in 10 people in some areas of the region may have contracted the virus over the festive period.

However, no further restrictions are expected to be agreed at the virtual meeting on Thursday morning.

Ministers are expected to discuss the enforcement of strengthened rules on face coverings.

It is understood that the grace period on enforcement, which had been due to end on January 7, will be extended.

Meanwhile the Department of Health has announced that pre-departure Covid tests for travellers arriving in Northern Ireland will be scrapped.

From 4am on Friday, fully vaccinated passengers and under-18s will no longer need to take a pre-departure test or self-isolate on arrival.

Fully vaccinated passengers still need to complete a passenger locator form and take a test on or before day two of their arrival.

From Sunday, this can be either a lateral flow or PCR test.

Anyone with a positive lateral flow test will be required to book a free confirmatory PCR test and isolate. If the PCR is negative, the isolation period can end.

The announcement follows a similar move in England.

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