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Quarantine for people without a negative test and passengers from certain countries set to be introduced

Ministers will discuss how much longer Level 5 restrictions will be needed.

A healthcare worker holds a swab at the Covid-19 testing centre in Dublin Airport.
A healthcare worker holds a swab at the Covid-19 testing centre in Dublin Airport.
Image: Sam Boal

Updated Jan 25th 2021, 12:25 PM

THE CABINET sub-committee will meet this afternoon to discuss introducing stricter travel restrictions.

Those travelling into the country without a negative PCR test are set to face quarantine under the new rules, with passengers from “high risk areas” such as South Africa and Brazil also likely to be subject to mandatory quarantine.

Similar to other countries, passengers will have to pay for their accommodation in a hotel while they self isolate. The system, which is likely to take some time to operationalise, will be enforced by private security companies, rather than the gardaí.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said over the weekend that the additional restrictions on travel are to act as a deterrent to people who are thinking of travelling for non-essential reasons.

Currently, passengers arriving from any country must have a negative PCR test taken 72 hours before arrival in Ireland. If arriving from red region zones, passengers are advised to take another test five days later, and restrict their movements until the result is Covid-19 not detected.

Ministers will today also discuss whether to impose fines for those found not to be complying with ‘stay-at-home’ public health advice after they land back in Ireland.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said mandatory hotel quarantine may be extended in the future, if it is approved today by the Cabinet’s Covid subcommittee.

It is believed that the initial roll out will give government an idea of the practicalities of the measure, such as how to transport passengers, where to hold them, how and who will enforce the measures.

Other ministers have also raised concerns about mandatory quarantine, raising issues about essential workers and the possible serious impact on air freight.

Government sources have also said that if such a wider mandatory quarantine system is rolled out in Ireland it would likely be in place for at least a year, if not summer of 2022, stating that this would mean another year in which families would not see family members.

‘Layers of security’

“There isn’t a silver bullet here, but what there are is a whole series of layers of security,” said Transport Minister Eamon Ryan this morning.

Speaking on Today With Claire Byrne on RTÉ Radio One, he said the government will move to strengthen the passenger locator form, and also promised that information and data would be shared with authorities in Northern Ireland.

Ryan said if Northern Ireland and the UK adopted the same approach as the Republic, it would be a lot easier, but said governments are working together to find a “seamless approach” to ensure there is “no back door” into the Republic.

“If there is a gap, we will close it,” he said, however when asked about border restrictions with the North he said: ”I don’t think it’s as yet politically possible.”

“If on a road south of the border, 5km from the border, someone’s on that road and doesn’t have a valid explanation as to why they’re travelling, they will be subject to prosecution and fine.”

The minister said he understood the public’s concerns about the rise in case numbers and deaths, but said the numbers are falling.

He pointed out that the numbers travelling are very low. Last Thursday, of the 1,074 passengers arriving into Dublin Airport, just one person did not have a PCR test result with them.

The Irish government is also following the advice of the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC), said Ryan. The ECDC recommends quarantining of travellers from areas with a higher incidence of the new variants.

Ryan said the World Health Organization’s Mike Ryan has said to be careful as regards to the imposition of more restrictions on travel, stating that quarantining passengers is not a “silver bullet” that will fix the situation. He said what is done at home is just as important.

WHO’s David Nabarro told RTÉ this morning that it is up to each country to determine what restrictions should be imposed when it comes to travel and restrictions.

‘Not draconian’ says McDonald

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said on RTÉ Radio this morning that the measure wasn’t “draconian”, and criticised the Government for not taking action sooner.

The Cabinet sub-committee is also to discuss schools reopening. Martin said over the weekend that not all students would be back in school buildings by St Patrick’s Day.

The Department of Education is currently engaged in confidential talks with teachers’ unions to work towards allowing children with special educational needs return to in-person learning.

Hospitals

As of yesterday, there were 1,930 patients with Covid-19 in hospital, 214 of whom were in ICU and 436 of whom are on advanced respiratory support. There were 44 additional hospitalisations in the previous 24 hours.

Over the weekend, Cork University Hospital appealed for volunteers to help ease pressure on its intensive care unit. 

Chief Operations Officer for South-Southwest Hospital Group Dr Orla Healy told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland today that the hospital was under “particular pressure” due to a low number of ICU beds.

Before the pandemic, Cork University Hospital had a “relatively low” number of ICU beds, Dr Healy said – despite being one of the largest and busiest hospitals in the area and the range of ICU-bed dependencies at the hospital. 

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This, coupled with 150 nurses being out because of Covid-related absences – 13 of those ICU nurses – led to the call at the weekend.

Over 70 doctors and nurses have been rostered for duty to cover the unit over the next few weeks, Dr Healy said. “The situation is being managed, we have beds and we have equipment,” Dr Healy said. 

Epidemiological situation

Yesterday, there were 1,378 new cases of Covid-19 in Ireland, and 23 further deaths.

The median age of the cases confirmed yesterday was 39 years old, and 58% are under 45 years of age.

The median age of those who died is 84 years and the age range is 61-99 years.

With reporting by Gráinne Ní Aodha

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