Ministers are meeting this afternoon to discuss a range of new Covid restrictions and the possible return of Leaving Cert classes.
The Covid sub-committee meeting is expected to run until late this evening with measures on foreign travel, cross-border traffic and the reopening of schools all up for discussion.
It is expected that the committee will also discuss an extension of Level 5 restrictions beyond this month before recommendations are brought to Cabinet tomorrow morning.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin has already indicated that most classes may not return to school for many weeks as pupils will only be allowed back on a phased basis, starting with those with special educational needs and those due to take the Leaving Certificate.
Education Minister, Norma Foley who will attend today's meeting has been in discussions with teaching unions and other representative bodies around the safe return to the classroom.
Transport Minister Eamon Ryan is also pushing new stricter measures to deter people from entering the country from abroad and to cut down on cross-border travel.
Gardaí are to be given increased powers under stricter measures to combat non-essential travel, Green party leader Eamon Ryan has confirmed.
“Because of the risk of this new variant we're going to take a much tougher, much stricter, much more wary approach, while still allowing emergency essential people to come in,” Mr Ryan said.
The new measures being discussed by the Covid sub-cabinet committee today, which are expected to be signed off by Government tomorrow include:
- Garda checkpoints outside airports to stop non-essential travel.
- Introduction of much stricter sanctions in terms of the five-kilometre rule to stop people flying. This will include fines for those who try to go abroad for non-essential reasons.
- Mandatory quarantining for those arriving into the country who don't have a negative PCR test.
- A ban on holiday visas or short-term visas for those coming from certain countries in South America and mandatory quarantining.
- Antigen testing at motorway services areas close to Dublin Port and Rosslare for hauliers travelling to France from Thursday.
- Strengthening the passenger locator form with more questions asked and more follow-ups after a person arrives in the country.
The Transport Minister said: “There isn't a silver bullet here, but what there are is a whole series of layers."
Mr Ryan said the recent introduction requiring all passengers to have a negative PCR test before arriving in Ireland "dramatically" cut the number of people flying straightaway.
"Now when we go another layer on top of that and have someone outside the airports saying 'I'm sorry, you cannot fly,' that will do it again."
He said the same five-kilometre rules will apply both at Dublin Airport and along the border with Northern Ireland, meaning people will be sanctioned and fined if they are found outside their five-kilometre distance.
"If on a road south of the border, five kilometres from the border someone is on that road and doesn't have a valid explanation as to why they are travelling, they will be subject to prosecution and fine and the guards have those powers."
However, Mr Ryan conceded that the gardaí would not have the power to turn people back if they are travelling more than five kilometres.
He added: "We need to significantly increase our surveillance to reduce particularly unnecessary travel."
But Mr Ryan said some people will always need to travel and used the example of those who come here from the UK to service power stations.
"We do need to maintain our ferries and our air cargo system. We do need to keep supplies."
Asked if the Government would follow the UK in stopping flights coming from Portugal, which is a major hub for South American flights, Mr Ryan said: "We will look at everything if there's an instance like that, where we see that there's a gap in the defences, we will close it."