Level 5 restrictions set to be extended until March 5th with clamp-down on travel

Cabinet subcommittee recommends mandatory quarantine for arrivals from Brazil and South Africa

Passengers at Dublin Airport  on Monday. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Passengers at Dublin Airport on Monday. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

The State is set to begin a major clamp-down on all international and cross-Border travel with a raft of strong new penalties to sanction those in breach of Covid-19 regulations.

A four-hour meeting of the Cabinet subcommittee on Covid-19 on Monday recommended that the current Level 5 lockdown be extended until March 5th.

It also recommended mandatory quarantine for all passengers arriving from South Africa and Brazil, at a hotel designated by the State.

In addition a new temporary measure will suspend all holiday visas to short-term travellers from those two countries, where there are new and unpredictable variants of Covid-19 in circulation.

Any passenger who arrives in a seaport or airport without being able to show a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of travelling will also be put into mandatory quarantine in a hotel and face fines of up to €2,500 and possible imprisonment for six months.

The subcommittee, chaired by Taoiseach Micheál Martin, also recommended strong coercive legislation to prevent non-essential cross-Border travel, Irish passengers using northern airports and ports as a backdoor to evade checks, and to stop Irish holidaymakers from flying abroad during this critical phase of the pandemic.

Gardaí will set up a battery of checkpoints within 5km of the Border across six counties in the northeast and northwest 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.

It is understood that Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan briefed colleagues on a number of other options that could be introduced in the next number of weeks.

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.

One of the options being considered is for compulsory PCR testing for all incoming passengers on arrival – in addition to the PCR negative test carried out within 72 hours of travelling. However, this proposal is unlikely to reach conclusion at the full meeting of Cabinet on Tuesday.

The Cabinet will extend the period of the current Level 5 lockdown until March 5th. On education, the subcommittee has recommended continuing efforts to allow children with special needs return to school as soon as possible, with ongoing negotiations in relation to a wider reopening.

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