All arrivals into the State - whether vaccinated or not - will need a clear Covid test result from Friday onwards.
Those travelling with an antigen test result will need to have obtained it within 48 hours of arrival into Ireland, and it will have to be professionally administered. No self-adminisitered tests will be accepted, under rules considered by cabinet. Those with a PCR test result will have a longer pre-travel window of 72 hours before arrival.
Persons arriving into the State from overseas who have been vaccinated or recovered from Covid-19 will be required also to have a certified negative test.
The specifics were strongly criticised on Tuesday afternoon in a series of social media positings by the UCD virologist, Dr Gerald Barry.
“Using a once off antigen tests like this to stop SARS-CoV-2 coming into Ireland, is scientifically unsound, and whoever came up with it should have a serious look at themselves,” he said on twitter. “I am actually embarrassed for whoever thought this would be a good idea.
“PCR is better in this circumstance, but 72 hours is too long. Shorten that and require it on the other side too. Consider false negatives as well as the chance of infection in the interim. Has nothing been learned?? This is all just fluff to look like something is being done.”
The Cabinet on Tuesday also endorsed National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) recommendations that children aged nine and over wear masks in school and reduce indoor socialising.
The Government did not make wearing masks for children a legal requirements, instead leaving them as recommendation to schools and parents, while asking them to curtail their children’s contacts. In general, the advice for children will be the same as for adults to reduce socialising.
Earlier, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly expressed relief at the latest Nphet figures which indicate that the efforts of the public have made a difference.
Speaking to RTÉ on his way into the Cabinet meeting this morning, Mr Donnelly appealed to "the relatively small number of people" who were not yet vaccinated to do so as it could reduce Covid-19 hospital numbers by half and ICU numbers even more than that.
The latest Nphet figures showed what the situation was now compared with the “sobering modelling forecasts” of two weeks ago, he said. “I’m delighted to be able to say that we can really see the impact of the efforts that people are making.”
The Minister also said he hoped that following this morning’s meeting there would be “very clear guidance” on mask wearing in schools and that there would be “very clear advice” for parents.
The analysis from Nphet showed that case numbers were particularly high in nine, 10 and 11 year olds, he said. This was the reason for the recommendation for children to wear masks in primary schools from third class up, he explained.
Nphet reported yesterday that there were 4,607 confirmed cases of Covid-19 with 579 hospitalised, of which 115 are in ICU.
The Government will introduce two pieces of emergency legislation to the Oireachtas this week to deal with the latest surge in Covid-19 with case numbers and hospitalisations remaining high.
A Bill to reintroduce mandatory hotel quarantine will be brought to the Dáil on Thursday. The Government has told Opposition parties it expects the Bill to pass all stages and has also said the debate will be subject to quarantine.
On Friday, the Health and Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill will come before the Dáil. This Bill will extend the Covid emergency powers where the Minister for Health is allowed to make regulations without recourse to parliament.
Most opposition parties will not oppose this Bill but will seek amendments. However, Sinn Féin on Tuesday said it would oppose the Bill, as it has opposed earlier extensions.
“We have reservations about that Bill particularly in relation to the competence of Minister (for Health) Stephen Donnelly,” said the party’s health spokesman David Cullinane.
“We are not in the mood to give this Minister for Health any blank cheques in relation to introduce ing regulations where there is no accountability or oversight or debate.”
He accused Mr Donnelly of making “a dog’s dinner” out of many (regulations).
The reintroduction of mandatory hotel quarantine has been on the Government’s agenda since the identification of a new highly transmissible variant of Covid-19 in South Africa last week. The legislation is in specific response to the emergence of the Omicron variant.
Speaking at Leinster House on Tuesday, Mr Cullinane said his party would nevertheless support the advice from Government for children, saying he agreed it should be advisory not mandatory.
“It’s a sensible approach as long as the appropriate supports are put in place for business who will face consequences,” he said.
“My view is that most of the people have abided by most of the advice most of the tie and that has put us in a strong position.”
However, in separate media interviews, Mr Cullinane and Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall both condemned what they described as Mr Donnelly’s ‘U-turn’ on free or subsidised antigen tests.
Calling for free antigen tests, Mr Cullinane said: “It might be okay for some of us on decent salaries. If there is a family with five or six nd they all have to take three antigen tests over a five-day period.”
Asked what controls could be put in place to ensure that the cost to the State of free antigen tests did not spiral out of control as they did in Britain, Mr Cullinane said the infrastructure and ability was there to ensure that. He also aid people should be trusted to do what is right.
Ms Shortall said the decision not to subsidise antigen tests was a “big mistake and does not make sense on any fronts”.
She said the Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Mr Donnelly had promised to subsidise antigens tests.
“The Government should not be leaving this important tool to the vagaries of the market. It’s important that the Government ensures certainty of supply and (that) the quality is good.”
“A family of four using it twice a week. That amounts to €30 a week which is a sizable amount of money.”
On the Janssen single-shot vaccine which was given to many people aged between 18 and 24 last summer, she said it was now known it waned very quickly and its efficacy was down to 13 per cent after nine months.
“For that reason priority needs to be given to that cohort between 18 and 34 who got the Janssen vaccine and are in the main out socialising and mixing most as young people do.”
She said there was no doubt that children are paying a big price at the moment and criticised inconsistencies in the rules.
“On the one hand you have rugby matches with 50,000 people and at the same time you are saying to children, you can’t go on a playdate. There is an imbalance there.”
Speaking on his way into Cabinet, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said that parents will make the "judgement calls" on reducing socialisation for their children.
He said: “It’s not a strict no on any one thing. It’s just saying do what we’re doing well.”
In remarks reported by RTÉ he said that Covid numbers are leveling and the advice for children will be “the same as adults, restrict socialisation”.
He said parents will be the judge on that and how to protect their family’s health.
*This article was amended on Wednesday, December 1st to reflect that 72- and 48-hour windows for PCR and antigen testing respectively apply to an individual's arrival into Ireland from abroad, not the time of departure as previously stated