The risk to the population of NI was “too great” to delay a 14-day travel quarantine for those travelling from Spain, the health minister has said.
Robin Swann told the assembly the detailed scientific information he received showed the weekly Covid-19 case rate in Spain had doubled.
“The health and safety of the people of Northern Ireland is my main priority,” he said.
The move came into effect at midnight on Saturday .
Mr Swann said he recognised the timing of the change would have “a significant impact on travellers arriving early on Sunday morning”, but he said a delay was not possible because of the strength of the evidence of an upsurge in Covid-19 cases in Spain.
Northern Ireland’s quarantine mirrors a similar move announced by the UK government over the weekend , and on Monday night, the Foreign Office updated its advice against all non-essential travel to Spain to include the Balearic and Canary Islands .
On Monday afternoon, Mr Swann told assembly members that employers would be urged to show flexibility to those having to quarantine and to allow staff to work from home where possible.
He said he had the full support of the executive and mechanisms were now being considered by other departments to help those affected by the restriction.
The Department of Finance is also exploring how some workers might be allowed to return to the furlough wages support scheme.
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In providing more detail, Mr Swann explained how Spain’s cases have risen.
“The key points to note are that since last week the weekly case rate for Spain has broadly doubled,” he said.
“Spain is following the same trajectory as Serbia which was removed from the regulations following the same process on 11 July.
“Spain now conducts less tests than the UK, so the true prevalence compared the the UK could be even higher than this data represents.
“The weekly case count in Spain has doubled from circa 4,489 to circa 9,575 this week.”
No Covid-19 related deaths have been recorded by Northern Ireland’s Department of Health in the past 24 hours, which means the number of deaths from the virus remains at 556.
The department’s daily figures are mostly comprised of hospital deaths, where a patient had previously tested positive for the virus.
The latest figures on the department’s dashboard show the total number of confirmed positive cases now stands at 5,912 – up 21 since Friday.
Despite advice from government not to travel to affected areas, if a flight still operates, customers are not entitled to a refund, according to Richard Williams, head of transport at the Consumer Council.
Speaking on Radio Ulster’s Good Morning Ulster programme, Mr Williams said those with flights booked should contact their airline.
“Airlines have been offering re-bookings and vouchers, so check what they will do for you but unfortunately, unlike the situation where your flight is actually cancelled – where you are entitled to a refund – there is no statutory entitlement to a refund,” he said.
Holidaymakers should take a “cautious approach” to booking foreign travel, Mr Williams said.
He advised that travel restrictions “could change very quickly” and customers should be aware “not only of the advice about travelling and returning” but also what will happen when you get to your destination as “there may be travel restrictions there as well”.
The government of Catalonia has also said all nightclubs and late-night bars in the region are to close for the next two weeks due to a spike in infections.
Airline Jet2 announced on Monday that it was suspending all of its Belfast to Malaga and Alicante flights from Tuesday. This will remain in place until 16 August.
Its flights to Faro, in Portugal, have also been suspended.
Jet2 said that customers with inbound flights from mainland Spain to the UK up until 3 August would return on their flight as planned.
The airline’s flights to the Balearic and Canary Islands are currently operating as scheduled.
EasyJet said it would operate its full schedule of flights to Spain in the coming days, but it is cancelling holidays to all Spanish destinations for the next few weeks.
It said it only offered holidays where there was no known requirement to self-isolate on arrival or return.
The UK’s biggest tour operator, Tui, has cancelled all mainland Spanish holidays until 9 August.
— bbc news