Covid variant sparks new clampdown on British arrivals to Ireland

Cabinet to consider restrictions on arrivals in a bid to slow more transmissible strain
Covid variant sparks new clampdown on British arrivals to Ireland

Unvaccinated passengers arriving in Ireland from Britain by air or sea will have to isolate at home for at least 10 days under the new tighter restrictions. Picture: Steve Parsons/PA

Unvaccinated passengers arriving in Ireland from Britain by air or sea will have to isolate at home for at least 10 days, under new tighter restrictions to be approved by Cabinet today.

Approval for the plan was given at a meeting of the three Government party leaders — Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, and Eamon Ryan — last night in response to concern as to the spread of the Delta variant of Covid-19.

The Irish Examiner has confirmed that under the plans, unvaccinated people will be subject to an isolation period of 14 days at home, but which can be set aside following a negative test after 10 days.

The plan also states that vaccinated people will be able to set aside the 14-day home quarantine requirement after five days should they receive a negative test.

Delta variant 60% more transmissible

The Delta variant, which was first identified in India, is now the dominant strain in the UK. It is proving to be 60% more transmissible than the previously dominant Alpha strain, which was first seen in Kent.

Coalition leaders Eamon Ryan, Micheál Martin, and Leo Varadkar have agreed measures to quell the Covid-19 Delta variant which will be put before the Cabinet today. Picture: Sasko Lazarov/RollingNews
Coalition leaders Eamon Ryan, Micheál Martin, and Leo Varadkar have agreed measures to quell the Covid-19 Delta variant which will be put before the Cabinet today. Picture: Sasko Lazarov/RollingNews

The tighter restrictions could be in place this week as they only require new regulations as opposed to primary legislation, which could take several weeks to pass through the Oireachtas.

The memorandum is expected to be tabled by Mr Martin, as health minister Stephen Donnelly is in Europe. Of the 69,400 persons arriving in Ireland in April, Britain proved the largest source, accounting for 21,600 arrivals and 28,000 departures.

Emergency visa requirements lifted

At Cabinet, justice minister Heather Humphreys will today inform her colleagues that she has lifted emergency visa requirements imposed on passport-holders from a dozen countries, including Brazil and South Africa.

An order was signed in January to require people from those countries — as well as Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname and Uruguay — to be in possession of a valid Irish visa when landing here.

That order will be lifted with immediate effect today, meaning that necessary travel can resume for people from those countries. (However, for Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Suriname, the visa restriction is lifted for transit visas only — that is, visas for the purposes of passing through Ireland to get to another state. Visas are otherwise required from these countries.)

Despite the lifting of the visa ban, arrivals from the countries subject to today's decision — regardless of their nationality, or what passport they hold — will still be required to enter mandatory hotel quarantine, carry out necessary tests, and adhere to public health measures, Government sources have said.

Reopening of third-level campuses 

Also at Cabinet, higher education minister Simon Harris will present for approval his plan to facilitate the full return of students to third-level campuses in September.

According to a Cabinet memorandum being brought by Mr Harris, at a minimum, it is envisaged that most primary functions of college campus life will return. These include: 

  • Laboratory teaching and learning; 
  • Classroom-based teaching and learning; 
  • Tutorials; 
  • Workshops; 
  • Smaller lectures and libraries.

Canteens, sports facilities, bars, and cafes will be allowed to open in accordance with the prevailing public health advice.

The memorandum said that, at a maximum, large-scale lectures will also be allowed. Institutions will be asked to prepare for this with a further report to Government in July, ministers will be told.

Mr Harris will also seek approval for rapid antigen testing to be used to facilitate the large-scale return of people to campus.

Rapid testing may play its part

If proven through piloting and feasibility, the benefits of rapid testing could provide an additional element to the control strategy set out in national guidance, the memorandum states.

In addition, there will be provision for further and higher education and training, including on-site presence for apprentices, English-Language education, and the resumption of research activity, over the summer months.

Caution about relying on antigen tests 

Meanwhile, single antigen tests are not recommended for use by asymptomatic people, as a “significant proportion” of infections will be missed, a HSE review has found.

Using one test with asymptomatic people, just 52% of positive cases were detected, compared to a PCR test. 

The report from the HSE Covid-19 antigen testing working group shows the working group evaluated seven antigen tests including six lateral flow tests and one microfluidic device with a reader. 

The use of antigen tests has been hotly contested in Ireland despite being in wider use in other European countries.

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