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.
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.
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 also 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.
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.
The measures will accompany an extension of the current lockdown until at least March 5th. The reopening of special education, construction and schools in general is not understood to be on Tuesday’s agenda. 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.
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 O'Neill, 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.
Several political sources also downplayed the prospect of any imminent progress on a "two islands" approach. On Monday, when asked about a joint approach with the UK, Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan said, "I don't believe it is, as yet, politically possible."
Earlier on Monday, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the Irish Government had not used its influence enough to press for an all-island approach to the pandemic by urging the Northern Ireland Executive to allow similar restrictive measures to apply in both jurisdictions.
However, Government TDs, including Mr Ryan, criticised Ms McDonald, arguing that her party was in a powersharing executive in the North and should bring its influence to bear.
The other main party in the North’s powersharing administration, the DUP, has essentially ruled out any new measures that would place restrictions on air or sea travel from Britain to Northern Ireland.
There were further worries about the vaccine programme on Monday night when German media outlets reported that the AstraZeneca vaccine was not very effective for people over the age of 65. German officials now fear the vaccine may not be approved by European Union authorities for use in those over 65, according to the reports. But the company strongly denied the reports on Monday night, insisting that its trials showed a strong response among older people. A spokesman for Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said: "The EMA has to make a determination on Friday and on the basis of that the European Commission will decide on approval. Ireland will be guided by those decisions."
Meanwhile, the downward trend in the number of new cases of the virus continued on Monday night, with the National Public Health Emergency Team (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 Nphet's 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”.