Negative Covid-19 test could be required for entry to the country 

Negative Covid-19 test could be required for entry to the country 

The Government will today decide whether all incoming travellers must have a negative Covid-19 test.

The Government will today decide whether all incoming travellers must have a negative Covid-19 test to gain entry to the country.

The move, to be discussed at Cabinet, follows a meeting between Nphet and Coalition leaders last night. 

Sources said the plan would mean everyone entering the county would have to get a “professionally administered” PCR or antigen test a maximum of 72 hours before travelling.

One senior minister said testing is preferable to last year's situation where non-essential travel was advised against or not allowed.
They pointed to a similar situation that will come into effect in Portugal this week.

Cabinet will also sign off on measures advising parents to "significantly reduce" the social contacts of their children. While the advice will not be prescriptive, sources said it is a case of "common sense".

“If you have a play date and a trip to the panto scheduled, just do one," said one source.

At its meeting, Nphet gave the Coalition leaders the rationale for recommending that gatherings of children be avoided. 

The infection rates for both the five to 11 age group and their parents are high, the Government was told. There is concern about a "very high incidence" among nine- to 11-year-olds and the risk is that mixing among all ages will increase in the run-up to Christmas. 

Children to wear masks

Children over the age of nine will be advised to wear masks in school, retail settings, and on public transport.

The meeting heard there has been a stabilisation in the virus in recent days. It was noted that incidence and positivity rates, hospitalisations, and intensive care admissions are all stable.

The Nphet meeting with Government leaders also heard that it will likely take a fortnight before the effects of the Omicron variant are known. 

There are currently 11 positive tests for Covid-19 which are being further examined to see if they are the new coronavirus variant, the Government confirmed.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said a trawl of samples has found “just over 10” cases with what is called “S-gene dropout”, which is associated with Omicron.

He said a full genomic sequencing process is now underway on those samples. 

Cases of the Omicron variant have since been confirmed in a number of countries, including England, Scotland, Israel, Belgium, Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Portugal.

'Serious dereliction of duty'

Meanwhile, the Government decision to drop its plans to provide cheaper antigen tests has been branded a “serious dereliction of duty” by the Opposition.

Mr Donnelly said on Monday that the price of antigen tests has now fallen in shops and supermarkets to a more affordable level. It had been widely anticipated that the Government would bring forward plans to subsidise the rapid tests, amid concerns about the prohibitive cost of antigen testing.

"It's quite good news. It very quickly became unnecessary," said Mr Donnelly.

"What was important to me was three things on antigen testing — that they were being widely used, that they're being properly used, and that they're affordable."

He said that some prices had fallen as low as €1.50 for an antigen test.

Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall said this is a decision that makes no sense on either public health or financial grounds.

“The decision of the Government to scrap a subsidy scheme for antigen tests is a serious dereliction of duty,” she said.

“It beggars belief that Health Minister Stephen Donnelly would announce a U-turn of this scale, as an aside in a media interview.” 

Earlier, officials at the Department of Health confirmed a further 4,607 cases of Covid-19 with chief medical officer Tony Holohan saying hospitalisation numbers are "concerning". There are 579 patients hospitalised with the virus, of whom 115 are in intensive care.

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