Covid-19: 5,156 new cases reported as testing rules for arrivals come into force

Once-off antigen tests for travel to stop omicron ‘not far off pointless’, virologist says

There were 5,156 new cases of Covid-19 reported by the Department of Health on Sunday while the number of hospital patients went back over 500, rising 16 to 503 of whom 110 are in intensive care.

Another 1,422 cases of the virus were reported in Northern Ireland, and a further seven Covid-related deaths.

The figures came as new Covid testing rules for all travellers arriving into the State came into force on Sunday in response to the spread of the Omicron variant.

Hospital Report

Those with proof of vaccination can show a negative, professionally administered antigen test carried out no more than 48 hours before arrival or a PCR test taken within 72 hours before arrival. Those who are unvaccinated must show a negative PCR test result.


On Sunday UCD virologist Gerald Barry said that while the aim of the measures was to dramatically reduce the spread of Omicron, the science did not support the measures proposed.

Speaking to Brendan O'Connor on RTÉ Radio, he said while he was a huge fan of antigen testing, a once-off test for travel 48 hours before arrival was "not quite pointless but not far off pointless".

He said the data coming out of Africa on Omicron was “troubling to say the least”. He said based on current data showing more reinfection and increased transmission, if it came to the State with 4000-5000 cases per day “that’s a very worrying scenario” and cases would “shoot up”.

At the start of the week the Government announced that all incoming travellers except those travelling from Northern Ireland will have to present a negative test result in order to enter the country irrespective of their vaccination status.

The test requirements were due to be introduced from midnight on Thursday. However, the system was postponed at the last minute to midnight on Sunday in order to allow airlines prepare for checks.

Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary had described the move as “nonsense” and “gobbledygook”.

New rules

Further measures were announced by the State on Friday following stark warning from public health officials about the Omicron variant. From Tuesday until at least January 9th, indoor hospitality will be limited to parties of up to six adults per table, while nightclubs will be closed and indoor events limited to half a venue’s capacity.

Advice has been issued that households should not host more than three other households in their home, while the use of the vaccine pass is to be extended to gyms, hotel bars and restaurants.

Dr Barry said the State was introducing restrictions again when so many other public health measures could be taken. He said the State needs to multiply testing by five, contract tracing needed to be much better in schools and sequencing needed to be done a lot more.

Meanwhile, more than 150 passengers have departed Morocco for Ireland on a repatriation flight organised by the Government.

The 156 passengers on the flight from Marrakech to Dublin included Irish citizens as well as citizens of several other European Union countries and the UK.

The journey was organised after flights to and from Morocco were suspended earlier this week until at least December 13th, amid fears over the spread of Omicron.

The repatriation flight on Saturday was operated on behalf of the Government by Ryanair.

Responding to news of the flight's departure, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney hailed the efforts of the Irish Embassy in Rabat in the operation, tweeting: "Well done and thank you!"