image captionThere are still restrictions in place for international and domestic travel
Northern Ireland has begun taking its first major steps out of lockdown, after almost four months under tight restrictions.
However, the rules and advice on travel in Northern Ireland remain different from other parts of the UK and the Republic of Ireland.
BBC News NI answers some of the many questions received from readers about travel during the pandemic.
What does ‘stay local’ mean?
During the lockdown, people were told to stay at home for all-but-essential reasons.
That changed on 12 April when the order was lifted and since then, the executive has been advising people to “stay local”.
It has not specified what that means exactly, as the definition of “local” will be different for everyone, depending on where they live in Northern Ireland.
image captionPeople have made use of the outdoors to help maintain social distancing
There is no law prohibiting someone from travelling in any part of Northern Ireland.
But the guidance remains to avoid going somewhere with crowds that could make social distancing difficult.
Is there a 10-mile limit for exercise?
No, this was never put into law.
When the executive imposed tough lockdown restrictions over Christmas, it did issue advice that people in Northern Ireland should not travel further than 10 miles (16km) to undertake outdoor exercise.
But it left it up to people to decide whether to follow the guidance, as opposed to putting a legal limit into force.
With the executive now taking steps to gradually lift lockdown restrictions, the advice in relation to travelling for exercise is unlikely to remain part of the executive’s overall coronavirus messaging.
Can I travel to Northern Ireland from other parts of the UK?
Yes, but the advice is only to do so if it is essential.
It states that essential travel includes but is not limited to:
- Returning home, if you are away from your permanent place of residence
- Working, where you cannot work from home
- Accessing health and social care services or childcare services
- Fulfilling essential caring responsibilities
- Fulfilling a legal obligation, including attending court
- Attending a funeral of a member of your household or close family member
image captionTravel is not advised unless for an essential reason
The executive says if you are coming to Northern Ireland from Great Britain and plan to stay for more than 24 hours, you should self-isolate on arrival for 10 days – but this is not law.
In England and Wales, it’s now possible to travel freely around and between both countries and from 26 April, Scotland’s border restrictions with other parts of the UK will also be lifted.
On Thursday, First Minister Arlene Foster said she had asked Health Minister Robin Swann to look at the guidance on domestic travel, as she recognised many people in Northern Ireland had been unable to travel to Great Britain to visit family during the pandemic.
There are also exemptions from the self-isolation guidance for some sectors including air crew, essential infrastructure workers, elite sportspeople and essential workers on film and TV productions.
What are the rules for travelling to the Republic of Ireland?
The Republic of Ireland is also part of the Common Travel Area (CTA) and you can travel from Northern Ireland across the border.
But the executive says this should be for essential purposes only.
Guidance states that this includes:
- Buying essential goods or services within your local area, where you live in counties that border the Republic of Ireland
- Attending the care and exercise of an animal, or veterinary services, where you live in counties that border the Republic of Ireland
image captionCheckpoints have been set up at the border with the Republic and people have been turned away
Advice remains that people arriving in Northern Ireland who have travelled from the Republic of Ireland should self-isolate for 10 days on arrival.
Anyone crossing the border routinely for work or other essential purposes is exempt.
At present, people living in the Republic of Ireland are permitted to travel within their own county or within 20km (12.4 miles) of their home, if crossing county boundaries.
The executive says if people are travelling from Northern Ireland to other regions of the Common Travel Area (England, Scotland, Wales, Republic of Ireland, Isle of Man, Channel Islands), they are also subject to the rules of where they are travelling to.
What about international travel?
There are hardly any direct international flights arriving in Northern Ireland at the moment.
However, rules for people arriving in or returning to Northern Ireland from places outside the CTA are specifically defined in law.
Firstly, they must self-isolate on arrival for 10 days at home or the place they are staying. Failure to do so can lead to a fine of £1,000.
There is also a requirement to book a day two and eight coronavirus test kit.
image captionThose arriving into NI from outside the Common Travel Area must self-isolate for 10 days
You must also provide your journey and contact details by completing a UK Passenger Locator Form.
And passengers must provide evidence of a negative Covid-19 test result taken up to three days or 72 hours before departure.
Stormont ministers have repeatedly raised concerns about the lack of data-sharing from authorities in Dublin.
On Thursday, the Department of Health said there were still difficulties in getting information about international flight passengers who are crossing the border into Northern Ireland.
Is there a hotel quarantine system in place in Northern Ireland?
Yes, it came into force on 16 April.
The executive has in place a “red list” system of 40 countries and territories across the Middle East, Africa, Asia and South America, although the list can change very suddenly depending on the UK government’s latest health advice.
Anyone arriving directly from one of those places into Northern Ireland must isolate for 10 full days (11 nights) in a government-approved hotel.
Passengers will have to book and pay for a managed isolation package before completing a Passenger Locator Form and travelling to Northern Ireland.
It costs £1,750 for one adult.
The executive says people must enter hotel quarantine at the port where they first arrive.
image captionThe Irish Defence Forces have been escorting buses to designated quarantine hotels in the Republic
For example, that means anyone arriving into Great Britain or Dublin from a “red list” country – who intends to travel onto Northern Ireland – must complete their self-isolation period there first before heading to Northern Ireland.
The Republic of Ireland has its own “red list” which includes 71 countries and territories including the USA, France, and Italy.
If you travel directly to Northern Ireland from a “red list” area, you can only arrive into certain designated airports:
- Belfast International Airport
- Belfast City Airport
- Any military airfield or port
Anyone who enters Northern Ireland from a “red list” country and is found to have breached the rules could face a penalty of thousands of pounds in fines.
However, questions remain about how this will be enforced.
Could Northern Ireland use ‘vaccine passports’ for holidays?
That’s not clear yet.
Stormont ministers and health officials say talks about this are ongoing with ministers in England and the other devolved nations.
Downing Street has pointed out that Covid certification – including proof of a negative test – is already part of international travel.
image captionImmunisation record cards like this could be supplemented with certificates acting as passports to certain events
It expects this to continue, and is looking at ways of making it possible to show such information digitally.
European officials have also announced plans for an EU-wide “Green Digital Certificate”. This would allow anyone vaccinated against Covid, or who has tested negative, or recently recovered from the virus, to travel within the region.
Are foreign holidays possible this summer?
That’s not known either.
The earliest possible date given by the UK government for foreign travel to resume in England was previously given as 17 May.
However, the Stormont executive has not said anything about when it expects to make announcements for Northern Ireland.
The next formal review of Northern Ireland’s coronavirus restrictions will take place on 13 May.