Stormont executive ministers are holding an emergency late night meeting amid a row over whether a Great Britain travel ban should be introduced.
The meeting was convened at short notice on Monday in response to a paper health minister Robin Swann had circulated to ministerial colleagues ahead of a scheduled meeting on Tuesday.
It is understood Mr Swann has recommended issuing guidance advising against non-essential travel between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, and Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, in response to the new variant of Covid-19.
The minister has also advised that anyone arriving into the region self-isolate for ten days.
Mr Swann is also understood to have called for further preparatory work to examine legal issues around the introduction of a formal travel ban.
He drew up the paper following consultation with Northern Ireland’s attorney general on the issue of travel restrictions.
It is understood Sinn Fein finance minister Conor Murphy has now written to Mr Swann expressing “dismay and astonishment” that he is not moving immediately to instigate a ban on travel between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
Mr Murphy called on Mr Swann to reconsider the position he has set out in his paper.
Ministers have debated the possibility of amending the 1967 Public Health Act to introduce short-term travel restrictions.
The Department of Health #COVID19 dashboard has been updated with latest data.
— Department of Health (@healthdpt) December 21, 2020
While Sinn Fein supports the move, the DUP insists that UK internal travel is already prohibited from Tier 4 areas in England, so there is no need for added Stormont legislation to enforce that.
Earlier, DUP First Minister Arlene Foster warned of serious ramifications if a travel ban was introduced.
Mrs Foster said the new strain of coronavirus has probably already arrived and warned that supply chains could be endangered by restricting travel.
“It is a very simplistic thing to say, ‘let’s close Northern Ireland off’,” she said.
“That has ramifications and as First Minister I have to take all those into account as well.
“I have always tried to be proportionate and balanced in everything that I have done through this crisis, and I am going to continue to do that.”