Level 5 extension until March 5th: Ministers told detailed legal work needed on travel rules – The Irish Times

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Ministers have been told that detailed work still needs to be undertaken on several key travel reforms under consideration at Cabinet today as part of an extension of the current Level 5 restrictions until at least March 5th.

The Cabinet has been told the detailed legal and operational arrangements for mandatory quarantine in a hotel, which will be introduced for arrivals from some countries and those without a negative PCR test on arrival, are still being prepared by the Department of Health, albeit urgently.

Meanwhile, Ministers have been told that the proposal to make quarantine at home mandatory is also subject to the consideration of legal issues involved.

Elsewhere, it is understood that people going on to Northern Ireland will have to fill in the passenger locator form to include their address, under new travel restrictions.

Main points

  • Level 5 extended until March 5th
  • Checkpoints 5km from Border
  • Legal requirement to self-isolate after travel abroad
  • Mandatory quarantine for arrivals without negative test
  • South Africa, Brazil travel ban
  • Increased fines

While the Cabinet is not expected to explicitly approve future opening dates for schools across the country at its meeting today, a phased approach to reopening is being planned which means most schools will not reopen from February 1st, as previously planned.

An advisory group will meet on either tomorrow or Thursday to begin discussions on potential contingency plans for the Leaving Certificate, it is understood.

Sources have said confidential talks are currently continuing with the unions in respect of a return to school for children with additional needs.

The Cabinet is also discussing a series of new Covid restrictions, including mandatory quarantine in designated hotels for incoming travellers without a negative test for the virus, increased fines for non-compliance with existing rules, and a ban on travel from South Africa and Brazil.

Border

In an effort to reduce unnecessary travel, checkpoints will be set up by gardaí 5km from the Border with Northern Ireland.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said last night the Government’s plans were to suppress the virus to very low levels. He said the easing of restrictions would happen very, very slowly and the time would be used to get as many people vaccinated as possible.

Negotiations, aimed at resolving concerns that led to the cancellation of the planned reopening of special education provision last week, resumed on Monday and are due to continue over the coming days with a plan expected at the end of the week.

Travellers without a negative test will also face a fine of up to €2,500 and/or up to six months’ imprisonment, while returning holidaymakers will face increased fines.

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, authorities in the Republic and Northern Ireland 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.

However, Ministers decided against recommending a mandatory quarantine on all travellers similar to the regime in place in Australia, New Zealand and parts of east Asia.

New measures

Travel from South Africa and Brazil will be halted temporarily, while Ministers will also be told on Tuesday that gardaí will mount increased checks at airports and ports.

Gardaí will set up checkpoints within 5km of the Border 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.

But there appears little prospect of a joint approach with the Stormont administration, despite phone calls between Taoiseach Micheál Martin and the Northern First and Deputy First Ministers, Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill, on Monday.

It is understood there were no meaningful discussions about an all-Ireland strategy for implementing restrictions or about a “two islands” approach which would see the Republic and the UK adopt a similar approach to restrictions.

Speaking last night Mr Varadkar said the Government was not ruling out mandatory hotel confinement for arrivals into the country.

The Tánaiste said he has been talking to his counterpart in New Zealand, and while people might be kept in hotels for such purposes, they would in effect be like detention centres.

Speaking on the Claire Byrne Live show on RTÉ television, he said it was likely the policy would not be fully effective if the Republic implemented it on its own because of the Border with Northern Ireland.

A poll conducted by the programme found that 71 per cent of respondents favoured closing the Border with Northern Ireland. Mr Varadkar said he was surprised by how high the figure was.

“I would be against that,” he said, regarding fully closing the Border. “We are not one state on this island, but we are one country.”

One hundred years after partition, “I wouldn’t like us to be the ones to do that.”

He would like to see an all-Ireland approach to the disease, but that was not possible because of the politics between Sinn Féin and the DUP.

Meanwhile, the downward trend in the number of new cases of the virus continued on Monday night, with Nphet announcing 1,372 new cases, and seven further deaths.

There were 1,803 patients with Covid-19 in Irish hospitals on Monday night, a drop of 145 on the number in hospitals yesterday morning. There were 217 people in ICU with the virus on Monday evening, which is down two on the previous day.

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