Stormont Executive examines measures to support those in quarantine

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By Rebecca Black, PA

Stormont ministers are examining measures to support those facing a 14-day quarantine after returning from Spain.

Health minister Robin Swann said the subject was the only item on the agenda at a remote meeting of the Northern Ireland Executive on Monday.

He said the Department for the Economy is engaging with employers to make sure there is flexible support for those in quarantine, and is also talking with travel insurers.

Mr Swann also said the Department of Finance is exploring whether the furlough scheme can be used, while the Executive Office is updating advice on NI Direct.

He appeared before the Assembly following the meeting to answer an urgent oral question from health committee chairman Colm Gildernew on his decision to introduce a 14-day quarantine for those returning from Spain.

Some returning from Spain on Monday criticised the move and expressed concern about the potential impact on their employment.

Mr Swann told MLAs that his decision was supported by the Executive and had been based on detailed scientific information.

"The evidence was considered so strong that delay was not feasible, the risk to the Northern Ireland population was too great to delay another day," he said.

"I will continue to make decisions based on scientific information to determine which countries may be removed or added to the exemption list, and will move quickly to remove any country when the evidence supports this.

"The health and safety of the people of Northern Ireland is my main priority."

Travellers continued to fly to and return from Spain via Belfast International Airport on Monday.

Edith Mikutenaite and Aleksanda Sabalina, from Newtownabbey, Co Antrim, were among those who returned from Barcelona.

They described the news of having to quarantine following a three-night trip as "horrible".

"It ruined the whole holiday," said Ms Sabalina.

"We did not expect that at all, we thought the announcement would be made on Monday or at least some sort of notice for people who had already left without knowing there was going to be a quarantine, to ensure they had any work issues sorted out."

Christopher Halliday, from Belfast, was visiting his mother in Barcelona.

"Everything in Barcelona was very safe, everyone was wearing face masks, to be honest I think they are ahead of us in terms of safety, so I just don't understand this decision they have made," he said.

EasyJet runs the flights which currently operate between Northern Ireland and Spain.

A spokeswoman said it is too early to say whether passenger numbers have been affected by the quarantine announcement, but added the airline will continue to operate its full schedule in the coming days while monitoring the situation closely.

On Monday, the Department of Health announced that 21 more positive cases of coronavirus had been detected in Northern Ireland, bringing the total to 5,912.

No new deaths were recorded, leaving the total in the region according to the department at 556.

Meanwhile it was announced the Covid-19 Infection Survey is being extended to Northern Ireland.

It has been running in England and Wales, where 195,000 swab tests have been carried out with the aim of building up a detailed picture of coronavirus infection rates.

Initially, 500 households in Northern Ireland are being contacted to take part in this new phase, with a further 500 households added each week as the survey is developed.

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