NON-ESSENTIAL travel across the Irish border could be suspended due to the emergence of the Indian Covid-19 variant in Northern Ireland.
Robin Swann, Northern Ireland's Health Minister, has warned of a "fresh increase of community transmission" of Covid-19 between border counties, and has urged Ireland to take action.
In a letter to Ireland's Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly, Mr Swann said that non-essential travel must be stopped "by enforcement if required," adding that both governments should do everything in their power to prevent it.
"I wish to place on record my concern at the potential for cross-border interactions to fuel a fresh increase in community transmission and Covid-19 cases in respective jurisdictions," he said in the letter.
"Our two jurisdictions are at different junctures, in terms of number of cases, the current trajectory of the epidemic, vaccination progress and Covid-19 restrictions.
"However, that should not hamper continued co-operation in key areas. In particular, I believe we should be doing all we can to prevent non-essential cross border travel at this time.
"This will require clear messaging, backed up by enforcement if required."
The message comes following news that the Indian variant of Covid-19 has just been detected in Northern Ireland.
The North's chief medical officer Michael McBride confirmed on Thursday that seven cases of the variant had been reported.
"This news is not entirely unexpected and plans are in place for such an eventuality," he said.
"While preventative measures, including travel restrictions, are very important, the assessment is that these will delay rather than permanently prevent the spread of the variants already detected elsewhere on these islands."