Despite a 48-hour ban on flights from Britain to Ireland coming into effect from midnight on Sunday, passengers could still travel to the island of Ireland on one of 41 flights arriving in Belfast and Derry on Monday.
One aircraft arriving into Belfast from London this afternoon was said to contain more than 100 passengers, according to one woman onboard who spoke to The Irish Times.
These travellers then headed to Dublin on a coach provided by the airline, she said. The flight was filled with people who had booked to fly to Dublin with the airline on Sunday, but could not travel as it was overbooked, she added.
The travel ban between Britain and Ireland was brought in as a precautionary measure following an announcement by the British government that a new variant of the coronavirus spreading in London and the southeast of England is more infectious.
Northern Ireland has not yet imposed a ban on travel from Great Britain, with First Minister Arlene Foster saying that closing the North to travellers from the rest of the UK would have “serious ramifications”.
The new strain of coronavirus has probably already arrived, Arlene Foster added, but warned against threatening supply chains in response.
She said ministers were very concerned about the highly infectious mutation and tests were ongoing.
The DUP leader added: “It is a very simplistic thing to say, ‘let’s close Northern Ireland off’.
“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.”
The Stormont Executive is due to meet on Tuesday morning to discuss its pandemic response.
Sinn Féin has urged its powersharing partners the DUP to agree to an immediate response and expressed concern over flights arriving on Monday into the North.
Ms Foster said she was awaiting advice from Northern Ireland’s attorney general and more guidance from health officials.
A spokeswoman for Belfast International Airport told The Irish Times that it had expected Tuesday and Wednesday would be the busiest days for Christmas travel at the airport.
Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon has imposed strict travel restrictions between Scotland and the rest of the UK for the festive period.
People living in Wales went into lockdown at midnight, while those living in London and the south-east and east of England have been placed in Tier 4 — the highest level of restrictions — for the Christmas period.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Minister for Transport Eamonn Ryan said the 48-hour travel ban to and from Britain will allow the Government to assess how the new strain spreads and to work with the UK Government and European colleagues to determine the next steps.
Mr Ryan said anyone who travelled into Ireland yesterday should restrict their movements for 14 days. He said he believes incoming passengers, and their families and friends, would “see the wisdom in that”. – Additional reporting: PA