Christmas bubbles to be limited to one day in Northern Ireland – sources

The Northern Ireland Executive has agreed to reduce the five day Christmas bubbling arrangements in the region to one day, according to Stormont sources.

The PA news agency understands the relaxation of Covid rules to allow three households to gather together will now be limited to Christmas Day.

But flexibility will be afforded to people working on December 25 to enable them to bubble on another day over the festive break.

The decision was made by Stormont ministers during an emergency virtual executive meeting late on Sunday night.

Ministers also debated the potential of a temporary ban on travel from Great Britain to Northern Ireland in response to the new variant of Covid-19 that has taken hold in other parts of the UK.

No decision was taken during Sunday night’s exchanges, with ministers expected to return to the issue on Monday.

It is understood Executive ministers debated amending the 1967 Public Health Act to introduce short-term travel restrictions.

Sinn Fein supported the move however practical issues were raised around how quickly such a ban could be introduced, given the time it would likely take for the Department of Health to draw up regulations to bring it into effect.

The DUP position was that UK internal travel is already banned from Tier 4 areas in England, so there is no need for added Stormont legislation to enforce that.

The party believes the responsibility for stopping flights and ferries within the UK is an issue for the UK Government and has also raised concern that Stormont could leave itself open to compensation liabilities if it was to legislate on the issue.

It is understood the Health Department is to seek further legal advice on the issue ahead of the executive resuming discussions on Monday.

On Sunday, Northern Ireland’s Department of Health confirmed another 13 people with Covid-19 had died in a 24-hour period, bringing the death toll to 1,196.

A further 505 new cases of the virus were also reported in the region.

There were 421 patients with Covid-19 in hospitals, including 30 in ICU.

The Northern Ireland Executive decided last week to impose a six-week lockdown from December 26.

The first week of the measures will see the toughest lockdown yet in Northern Ireland, with a form of curfew in operation from 8pm, shops closed from that time and all indoor and outdoor gatherings prohibited until 6am.

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