The current Level 5 restrictions are set to be extended until at least March 5th by the Cabinet this morning due to the high numbers of patients in hospitals and intensive care with Covid-19.
The measure was one of a number agreed by Taoiseach Micheál Martin and senior Ministers on the Cabinet Covid-19 subcommittee which will be discussed by their colleagues.
A series of new Covid restrictions, including mandatory quarantine in designated hotels for incoming travellers without a negative test for the virus, increased fines for non-compliance with existing rules, and a ban on travel from South Africa and Brazil, are set to be approved by the Cabinet on Tuesday morning.
- Level 5 extended until March 5th
- Garda checkpoints 5km from Border
- Legal requirement to self-isolate after travel abroad
- Mandatory quarantine for arrivals without negative test
- Ban on travel from South Africa and Brazil
- Increased fines for non-compliance
In an effort to reduce unnecessary travel, checkpoints will be set up by gardaí 5km from the Border with Northern Ireland.
The reopening of special education, construction and schools in general is not understood to be on Tuesdays agenda.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said last night the Governments plans were to suppress the virus to very low levels. He said the easing of restrictions would happen very, very slowly and the time would be used to get as many people vaccinated as possible.
Negotiations, aimed at resolving concerns that led to the cancellation of the planned reopening of special education provision last week, resumed on Monday and are due to continue over the coming days with a plan expected at the end of the week.
Travellers without a negative test will also face a fine of up to 2,500 and/or up to six months imprisonment, while returning holidaymakers will face increased fines.
For the first time, all incoming passengers will face a legal requirement to self-isolate after arrival with criminal sanctions for breaches. Until now, while the advice has been for arrivals to self-isolate, it has had no legal basis.
In addition, the Irish and Northern Irish authorities have agreed to share some data in relation to passengers for the purposes of curbing the spread of the virus on both sides of the jurisdiction.
For the first time, those who arrive from abroad into the State via Northern Ireland will also face punitive sanctions including fines or imprisonment if they fail to self-isolate for 14 days.
The effect of all of this will be to reduce the volume of international travel to Ireland to a dribble, said a source familiar with the discussion.
The source said the move would stop Irish holidaymakers from travelling abroad during the pandemic and British citizens from flying into Dublin and then using the North as a backdoor.
There is evidence that some 2,500 people have travelled from the State to Spain during January, some of whom have been holidaymakers. Checkpoints will continue to operate near airports and sea ports to ensure that people are not travelling abroad for non-essential reasons.
However, Ministers decided against recommending a mandatory quarantine on all travellers similar to the regime in place in Australia, New Zealand and parts of east Asia.
The Cabinet will be warned that the new measures will take time to implement.
All visa-free short-term travel from South Africa and Brazil will be halted temporarily, while Ministers will also be told on Tuesday that gardaí will mount increased checks at airports and ports.
Gardaí will set up checkpoints within 5km of the Border to prevent unnecessary travel. Legislation will be introduced for the first time to impose fines on people travelling from the northern jurisdiction who are not essential workers.
But there appears little prospect of a joint approach with the Stormont administration, despite phone calls between Taoiseach Micheál Martin and the Northern First and Deputy First Ministers, Arlene Foster and Michelle ONeill, on Monday.
It is understood there were no meaningful discussions about an all-Ireland strategy for implementing restrictions or about a two islands approach which would see the Republic and the UK adopt a similar approach to restrictions.
Speaking last night Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise Leo Varadkar said the Government was not ruling out mandatory hotel confinement for arrivals into the country.
The Tánaiste said he has been talking to his counterpart in New Zealand, and while people might be kept in hotels for such purposes, they would in effect be like detention centres.
Speaking on the Claire Byrne Live show on RTÉ television, he said it was likely the policy would not be fully effective if the Republic implemented it on its own because of the Border with Northern Ireland.
If such a measure was introduced it would be likely to last for most of the year, as such dramatic public health measures were hard to reverse.
It might create even greater restrictions on foreign travel and could mean that people would not be able to travel for reasons such as job interviews, education, or to attend family funerals. It might also affect supply chains.
He said he had spoken to the chief medical officer, Dr Tony Holohan, and Dr Philip Nolan, of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), and they advised that pursuing a zero Covid strategy probably wouldnt work.
This was because of Irelands position in the middle of a European outbreak of the disease, the Border with Northern Ireland, and our connectivity with Britain and Europe.
Zero Covid means no new cases for 14 days. It took the city of Melbourne, Australia three months to get from about 400 Covid cases to zero.
For us it could take much longer. It might mean permanent lockdown, and we might never get to zero.
A poll conducted by the programme found that 71 per cent of respondents favoured closing the Border with Northern Ireland. Mr Varadkar said he was surprised by how high the figure was.
I would be against that, he said, regarding fully closing the Border. We are not one state on this island, but we are one country.
One hundred years after partition, I wouldnt like us to be the ones to do that.
He would like to see an all-Ireland approach to the disease, but that was not possible because of the politics between Sinn Féin and the DUP.
Meanwhile, the downward trend in the number of new cases of the virus continued on Monday night, with Nphet announcing 1,372 new cases, and seven further deaths.
Case numbers were halving every 10 days and collectively people had achieved suppression of the disease, Prof Philip Nolan, chairman of Nphets epidemiological modelling advisory group, said.
But the incidence remained very high in long-term care facilities and among vulnerable people, he said, and mortality remained high.
Prof Nolan also said admissions to hospital had been decreasing for the past two weeks and that ICU admissions may be starting to decline.
There were 1,803 patients with Covid-19 in Irish hospitals on Monday night, a drop of 145 on the number in hospitals yesterday morning. There were 217 people in ICU with the virus on Monday evening, which is down two on the previous day.
There are currently 30 adult ICU beds available around the country and seven paediatric critical care beds open. St Jamess Hospital in Dublin is currently caring for 20 Covid-19 patients in its ICU department with University Hospital Limerick and Cork University Hospital both caring for 19 people with Covid-19 in ICU respectively.
The Mater Hospital has 18 Covid-19 patients in ICU, University Hospital Galway has 17 and St Vincents Hospital has 13 ICU patients with Covid-19.
University Hospital Waterford is caring for the highest number of patients with Covid-19 (125) followed by Cork University Hospital where there are 124 and St Vincents Hospital, which has 119.
Separately, about 1,500 fines have been issued by gardaí over the last two weeks for non-essential travel.
A total of 909 fines had been processed for the period for non-essential travel at close of business on Sunday, An Garda Síochána has said, with an additional 645 fines currently being processed.
On-the-spot fines of 100 were introduced two weeks ago for breaching Covid-19 travel restrictions, while those failing to adhere to regulations on the wearing of face masks can be fined 80.
The travel restrictions include an instruction to stay within 5km of your home except for essential purposes.