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New travel test rules take effect for inbound passengers to Ireland

Ireland is exempt from further rules on testing announced yesterday for people travelling to the UK.

LAST UPDATE | 5 Dec 2021

PEOPLE TRAVELLING TO Ireland from this morning are now required to have a recent negative Covid-19 test result. 

For vaccinated people or those who have recovered from Covid-19, this means either a negative antigen test taken no more than 48 hours before arrival or a negative PCR test taken no more than 72 hours before arrival.

Unvaccinated people must have a negative PCR test result. 

Only antigen tests listed on the EU Rapid Antigen Test list will be accepted and it must be carried out by a health professional or skilled testing personnel. 

Everyone travelling to Ireland from overseas must also fill out a passenger locator form before they depart. 

The new measures, which are to be reviewed again in a fortnight’s time, come amid increasing concern about the Omicron variant of Covid-19 and will apply to people arriving into the State at ports and airports from overseas.

People who do not have a negative test and arrive in Ireland will be subject to fines and will be required to isolate at home or their final destination until they can provide a negative test.

The measures were due to come into effect at midnight on Friday but were delayed until today as rules needed to be “finalised”. 

Dr Gerald Barry, Assistant Professor of Virology at UCD, said the use of one-off antigen testing for inbound travellers with no other follow-up is “not quite pointless, but it’s not far off pointless”.

“I looked at what they’re proposing, which is a PCR within 72 hours of flying or an antigen test within 48 hours of flight, and if the ultimate aim of this whole thing is to dramatically reduce the amount of Omicron variant coming into the country, to put it simply, the science does not support doing either of those things,” Dr Barry told RTÉ Radio One’s Brendan O’Connor show.

“I’m a huge fan of antigen testing, I think we should be using it much more widely in the country, but it has to be used appropriately.”

Pointing to preliminary data emerging from South Africa on the Omicron variant, which indicates less protection against infection and increased transmission rates, Dr Barry said it creates a “very worrying scenario” for Ireland.

If you drop this variant into a country like ours, where we’re running between 4,000 and 5,000 cases a day, and effectively don’t seem to be able to drive that much lower with what we’re currently doing, that’s a very worrying scenario, because if everything else remains equal, that case number is going to shoot up with the Omicron variant based on what we currently know.

“That’s not to drive any kind of fear among people, that’s just unfortunately the reality based on the evidence we have.

Dr Barry said Covid-19 testing in Ireland needs to be happening at five times the rate it currently is to control the spread of the virus.

“We are under testing our population. We don’t know where transmissions are coming from or going to and in that scenario, you can’t control anything without introducing further and further restrictions.”

“I think the ultimate frustration for a lot of people in the country is that we’re introducing restrictions again to try and curb this thing when there are so many other public health measures that could be taken to support the amazing work that public health is already doing and to supplement this and drive it up.

“We need to multiply our testing by a factor of probably about five. We need to contact rates in all situations, including schools,” he added.

Northern Ireland

Anyone arriving in Northern Ireland from abroad will be required to undergo a pre-departure Covid test from Tuesday, the Department of Health confirmed today.

The changes to international travel for Northern Ireland mirror a similar announcement made on Saturday for England.

The new rules have been announced amid growing concerns over the spread of the Omicron Covid variant.

No cases of Omicron have yet been identified in Northern Ireland, but Health Minister Robin Swann has previously said it is expected that the new strain is already in the region.

Under the new rules, from 4am on Tuesday anyone arriving into Northern Ireland from abroad will be required to take a pre-departure Covid test.

This applies to all travellers aged 12 years old and over, including those who are fully vaccinated.

The Department of Health said it is a temporary measure and will be reviewed prior to 20 December.

Similar requirements for a negative test introduced in the UK last week do not require people travelling from Ireland to provide a negative test.

Meanwhile, a further seven deaths of patients who had previously tested positive for Covid-19 have been reported in Northern Ireland. Another 1,422 cases of the virus were also notified by the Department of Health.

Further measures announced in the UK yesterday that all arriving passengers will have to take a Covid pre-departure test amid fears about the spread of the Omicron variant also do not apply to Ireland.

UK ministers said it was intended to be a temporary measure following new data showing an increase in the number of cases of the Omicron variant linked to foreign travel.

From 4am on Tuesday, everyone aged 12 and older must take a PCR or antigen test before travelling to the UK from abroad (except those in the Common Travel Area).

The test must be taken within the two days before travel and applies regardless of vaccination status.

Latest figures from the UK Health Security Agency showed as of Saturday, a further 26 cases of the Omicron variant had been reported across the UK – taking the total so far to 160.

The UK travel test rules are announced on top of rules announced last week that have already taken effect for people to complete a Covid-19 test after arriving in the UK. 

Additional reporting by Adam Daly and Press Association.

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