Confusion continues despite updated NI travel guidelines

Covid restrictions and requirements for travel both in and out of Northern Ireland remain as unclear as ever following the latest NI Executive instructions, industry professionals have said.

One travel agent has described the situation as “utter confusion,” while another said her coach travel company’s operations remain severely curtailed as “it’s not really clear what the rules are”.

Updated information, published on the NI Direct website and valid from May 24, states that a large proportion of those arriving in Northern Ireland from Great Britain or the Republic of Ireland – including all NI residents – will be exempt from self-isolation requirements, but are being “asked in guidance” to take a pre-departure Covid test, with other tests to be taken on “day two and day eight post-arrival”.

Caroline McComb of McComb’s Coach Travel said that 95% of her normal business activity – which is reliant on visitors from outside Northern Ireland – has been lost during the Covid crisis, but is still “erring on the side caution,” despite the Executive’s tentative moves to relax the restrictions.

The majority of visitors to Northern Ireland from GB and the Republic of Ireland are no longer required to self-isolate, but are being asked to take a series of Covid tests.

Having decided that all McComb’s cross-border trips will remain suspended until September, the company has launched a new package of summer day-trips within Northern Ireland for fed-up local residents.

“At the moment it’s just really not clear what the rules are, so we are erring on the side of caution until we see what happens, but there is definitely an appetite for it,” she said.

“That is why we introduced these trips which are targeted at local people, because the majority of people are going to be holidaying at home. People want day trips to put into their calendar now to have something to look forward to.”

For those hoping to jet off to somewhere more exotic, countries such as Portugal are providing “guidance which is clear and concise,” one travel agent has said.

Heather Fielding of Gallagher Travel in Londonderry said customers on both sides of the Irish border were contacting her for advice on both travelling abroad and the potential quarantine and Covid testing requirements on their return.

“I don’t think it’s overly clear ... it is just utter confusion,” she said.

“We have Portugal on the ‘green’ list, so it is very clear exactly what Portugal is looking for. We need that same guidance, which is clear and concise with no misunderstanding, so people know exactly what to expect when they come here,” Ms Fielding told the BBC’s Nolan radio show on Tuesday.

In a video posted on social media, Economy Minister Diane Dodds said she would be pressing her NI Executive colleagues to adopt the same approach as the rest of the UK and the Republic of Ireland.

“If you are a visitor coming to Northern Ireland, our guidance tells you that you have to quarantine for 10 days on arrival. We will be the only part of the British Isles that has this type of guidance and we need a much more sensible approach to receiving our visitors, and helping our tourism and hospitality businesses to grow and to recover after the pandemic,” Mrs Dodds said.

“We also need to allow people to travel internationally again... and return normality to our lives”.

The latest NI Executive guidance states: “In relation to travel within the CTA (Common Travel Area), which is currently subject to advice and guidance, we have decided to remove the essential travel reasons requirement and retain the guidance on self-isolation and add two new exemptions to this:

• Visits to family and friends;

• Those who have completed mandatory managed quarantine on arrival at a point of entry elsewhere in the CTA and travelled directly to NI.”

The full list of Covid self-isolating exemptions is available at www.nidirect.gov.uk

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