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Live Reporting

Tori Watson

All times stated are UK

  1. Good afternoon

    That's all from Stormont today.

    Many thanks for joining us this week.

    We'll be back on Monday, when the assembly will return for a full plenary session.

    Until then, you can keep up to date with all the latest political action on tonight's The View, on BBC One NI at 22:45 local time, and also on the BBC News NI website.

    Stormont

    Have a great weekend and stay safe.

  2. Committee adjourned

    wide shot of committee

    Paula Bradshaw thanks Elaine Colgan for attending the meeting.

    MLAs then turn to a discussion about the regulations they have just been briefed on.

    The committee agrees to delay making decisions on some of the amendments until next week as they wish to get more scientific information.

    They discuss some other items of business before the meeting is adjourned.

  3. Passenger locator forms and data sharing

    Órlaithí Flynn
    Image caption: Órlaithí Flynn joins the meeting by video link

    Órlaithí Flynn, of Sinn Féin, seeks more information about passenger locator forms and the sharing of information between north and south.

    Elaine Colgan says she would have “loved to have seen” this issue resolved “long before now”.

    The department official outlines some of the data which is shared, including the number of people who complete passenger locator forms and put down an NI address.

  4. 'High-end TV'

    West Belfast MLA Gerry Carroll asks about the “sectoral exemptions” in the regulations, for those such as people working in television.

    “How many people are affected by this regulation?”

    Elaine Colgan from the department replies that “this is only for high-end TV”.

    She adds that it’s “more or less in line with the film exemption that we already had in place”.

  5. Sinn Féin's role in Covid-19 in NI 'not one to be proud of'

    Leo Varadkar

    The tánaiste (Irish deputy prime minister) has said the Covid-19 situation in Northern Ireland is as bad if not worse than in the Republic.

    Leo Varadkar made the comments while speaking in the Dáil (the lower house of parliament in the Republic of Ireland).

    On Tuesday, statistics released by Johns Hopkins University in the US found that the Republic has the world's highest number of confirmed new Covid-19 cases per million people.

    Responding to criticism from Sinn Féin’s finance spokesman on the Irish government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Varadkar said he didn't think today was a day in which Sinn Féin should be scoring political points.

    “The job you’ve done in Northern Ireland is not one to be proud of in my view," he said.

  6. 'Up to Queen's to decide' if chartered China flight was appropriate

    Jonathan Buckley asks if China is on the approved travel list to Northern Ireland.

    “Gosh, you’re testing me now Jonathan,” says Elaine Colgan, adding that she would need to look that up to provide a “firm answer”.

    Mr Buckley, of the DUP, doesn’t think it is.

    He says Queen’s University Belfast chartered a flight to “bring Chinese students from Beijing to Belfast”.

    Mr Buckley wants to know the department’s view on chartering such a flight.

    Jonathan Buckley

    “I guess it would be up to Queen’s to decide if that was appropriate or not,” responds Ms Colgan.

    “It wouldn’t be something we would give a definitive view on."

  7. North-south information sharing

    How does the reduction of self-isolation from 14 to 10 days following travel relate to advice “elsewhere” asks Paula Bradshaw.

    Elaine Colgan says the decision was made based on “when a person is infectious”.

    She adds that Chief Scientific Adviser Prof Ian Young would be the best person to provide scientific insight on this issue.

    travel

    South Belfast MLA Ms Bradshaw asks for an update on data sharing issues, north and south of the border.

    “The minister has written again to his counterpart in the south yesterday,” says Ms Colgan.

    She says the department is hopeful it will be able to get an agreement to share information “for limited purposes with the south”.

    “We don’t have the information sharing arrangements in place yet,” she adds.

  8. International travel regulations 'reviewed weekly'

    MLAs discuss the briefing and agree to support the amendments.

    Elaine Colgan from the Department of Health now joins the committee by video link to outline the regulations relating to travel.

    She says international travel regulations are “reviewed weekly”.

    The amendments being discussed today relate to “changes to the travel corridor list”, as well as “sectoral exemptions from self-isolation”.

    Elaine Colgan

    A reduction in self-isolation for travellers from 14 to 10 days “was in line with the reduction of self-isolation period for close contact of a positive case”, which was a UK-wide approach.

    Ms Colgan says there was also a need to change the information required from passengers.

  9. Tesco sees disruption to some NI food supplies

    tesco shelves

    Tesco says it has seen some disruption to food supplies in Northern Ireland since trading arrangements with the EU changed on 1 January.

    Boss Ken Murphy said there had been "limited disruption" to imports of food such as citrus fruit and ready meals.

    But he said the retailer was working closely with the government on both sides of the Irish Sea to "smooth the flow".

    Since 31 December, Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that has stayed in the EU's single market for goods.

    Read more on this story here.

  10. 'We’re in a constant process of review'

    Covid closure sign

    Gerry Carroll asks what assessment the department has done to ensure its strategy of “opening things up prematurely will not be embarked on again”.

    “I think we’re in a constant process of review,” replies Liz Redmonds.

    The health department official adds “everybody is learning, around the whole globe we’re learning”.

    “It’s a very difficult balance that’s having to be struck all the time.”

  11. 'Do these restrictions still apply?'

    “Which of these amendments currently apply and how many have been replaced by recent executive decisions?”

    That’s the question from DUP MLA Jonathan Buckley.

    “I would say that the restrictions that were commenced on 26 December have to a very large degree overwritten these regulations,” responds Liz Redmond.

    The Department of Health official says “we were in such a different place” when the regulations being discussed today were introduced.

  12. Contact tracing information at restaurants

    Pam Cameron, the deputy chair of the committee, is seeking clarification on the regulations relating to the gathering of track and trace information from customers visiting restaurants.

    “We did increase the requirement visitor information,” responds Liz Redmond.

    The department official says anyone aged 16 and above is required to provide their name, number and total number of people from each household also attending.

    “We have expected people to do their bit,” she says.

    burger

    DUP MLA Ms Cameron says asking for further information, such as a postcode, “should be considered” and possibly put into the regulations.

    Ms Redmond says she’ll note the point and “take it away for consideration”.

  13. What impact did Christmas bubbling have on spread?

    christmas tree

    Paula Bradshaw asks what impact Christmas bubbling arrangements and regulations have had.

    Liz Redmond says there is a “constant balancing act” between enabling the “economy to progress and function” and preventing contact between people to avoid further virus spread.

    The health official says when the decision was made “there was a significant reduction in the number of cases” and the judgement was “that it was appropriate to make some relaxations to allow the economy and society to function in the run up to Christmas”.

    “Whether that was the correct judgement at the time or not, that’s a matter for history and depends where you sit on this,” she adds.

  14. 'An awful lot of consultation' about restrictions

    Paula Bradshaw turns to questions.

    The interim committee chair raises concerns about the lack of consultation around the impact of the regulations.

    Paula Bradshaw

    “There has been an awful lot of consultation across government and with sectors impacted during the development of amendments,” says Liz Redmond.

    The department official adds that “we have developed good methods there for stakeholder engagements”.

    As for assessing the impact, Ms Redmond says “we’re in a process of ongoing review”.

  15. Briefing on Covid-19 restrictions

    Covid-19

    Paula Bradshaw and her fellow committee members are back in the senate chamber.

    The next item of business is a briefing, from various department officials, about coronavirus regulations.

    Liz Redmond, from the Department of Health, who joins by audio link, kicks off the session.

    She begins by outlining the background of how the regulations came about.

    Due to an assessment of the virus situation, Ms Redmond says the executive agreed to allow some reopening on 11 December, including non-essential retail and close contact services.

    The official outlines the subsequent changes which were made to the regulations regarding the Christmas period.

  16. Vaccination of carers

    DUP MLA Pam Cameron jumps in for a quick follow-up question.

    She asks where carers, including unpaid carers, feature on the vaccine list.

    Dr Michael McBride says they are included on the JCVI list.

    “Those individuals should be expecting to receive their vaccine in February,” adds the chief medical officer.

    vaccine

    Interim chair, Paula Bradshaw, thanks the minister and chief medical officer for their contribution to the meeting.

    MLAs then discuss some of the issues which were raised during the briefing, before taking a short comfort break.

  17. Pharmacists taking 'additional pressures off our GPs'

    Alan Chambers, the health minister’s UUP colleague, asks about the role of pharmacists in the rollout of the vaccination programme.

    The North Down MLA also wants to know if there will be any change to the prioritisation list.

    Robin Swann says pharmacists have been picking up “more of our flu vaccination programme” to enable both vaccination programmes “running concurrently”.

    Alan Chambers

    The health minister adds that this “takes additional pressures off our GP practices” which enables them to focus on “extremely vulnerability cohorts” for the Covid-19 vaccine.

    As for prioritisation, Mr Swann says NI will continue to follow the JCVI advice.

  18. Agriculture minister warns of 'crisis' over NI food supplies

    Edwin Poots

    Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has warned action is needed to avert "a major crisis" over food supplies to Northern Ireland.

    The DUP minister said difficulties caused by the new Irish Sea border as a result of Brexit could mean schools and hospitals will not be able to get supplies "in a few months' time".

    Food products face strict EU rules when moving from GB to NI.

    The Alliance Party accused Mr Poots of "scaremongering on steroids".

    Read more on this story here.

  19. 'Advice to ministers is based on the science'

    vaccine

    Gerry Carroll, of People Before Profit, wants the scientific explanation behind the delay in the administration of the second dose of Covid-19 vaccine.

    “The advice to ministers is based on the science,” responds Dr Michael McBride.

    The chief medical officer (CMO) says the evidence shows that between two and three weeks after the first dose of both vaccines, the clinical protection from the disease “is high, between 70 and 90%”.

    He adds that the second dose is “of benefit for longer-term protection and immunity”.