Covid-19 has now claimed more than 3,000 lives in Ireland as several more months of enhanced restrictions on personal freedoms lie ahead.
Announcing the extension of level 5 lockdown until at least March 5, Taoiseach Micheál Martin warned there are “no guarantees” as to when restrictions will be eased.
Confirming new quarantine requirements of up to 14 days for passengers arriving into Ireland, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said there was no guarantee that international travel will be possible by the summer or even Christmas.
"We have to be realistic with people,” the Tánaiste said.
Greater Garda enforcement and increased fines — from €100 to €500 — for those outside the 5km travel limit will also come into effect.
Other measures include:
- Increased Garda checks and enforcement activity relating to people travelling internationally;
- Mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine will be required for passengers who arrive without a negative PCR test
- Mandatory quarantine for those arriving from Brazil and South Africa
- In other cases, passengers will be required by law to quarantine at home.
- Travellers from the UK and elsewhere who arrive in Ireland via the North will be subject to the same laws as those who arrive in Dublin, Cork or Shannon.
- Gardaí will have the power to fine those from the North using Irish airports to travel abroad, but will not be able to stop them travelling.
The Taoiseach said: "The message to people for the next six weeks is very simple: Stay at home, do not travel.”
He said the majority of people at airports are Irish, returning from holidays over the Christmas period, which means there's a need for a very strong deterrent to ensure people do not go on non-essential travel.
The extended lockdown means the majority of the country's schoolchildren are set to remain at home for at least another six weeks, with the government non-committal on a full reopening of the education sector.
Beginning with children with special educational needs, the Government plans to reopen schools for in-person learning on a phased basis.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said case numbers will be monitored strictly ahead of any widescale return to classrooms.
The extended school closures raise further questions over the arrangements for this year's Leaving Cert exams — a decision on the matter has not been made yet.
Accused by the opposition of rushing yesterday's announcement and being unprepared, Mr Martin and Mr Varadkar did concede that the introduction of quarantine measures are weeks away.
At Cabinet, several ministers, including Norma Foley, Simon Harris, Catherine Martin and chief whip Jack Chambers, are understood to have expressed concern about the effectiveness of the proposed quarantine system.
It's understood Ms Martin raised concerns that the new quarantine regime didn't go far enough in blocking travel from South Africa and South America, because new variants may appear in the weeks ahead.
She talked about the need for a larger managed quarantine programme, which she said would allow us to escape from this scenario by the summertime.
Responding to the latest set of restrictions, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said it is deeply concerning for an aviation industry that has been effectively shut down for nearly a year.
“By introducing further restrictions without a clear and comprehensive roadmap for how these measures will be removed to allow aviation to meaningfully restart, the Government risks doing lasting damage to the Irish aviation sector and is putting thousands of jobs at risk,” it said.