Inbound travellers to Ireland will need a negative Covid test from Friday amid Omicron concerns

Inbound travellers to Ireland will need a negative Covid test from Friday amid Omicron concerns
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FROM FRIDAY, PEOPLE arriving into Ireland will be required to have a negative Covid-19 test, Cabinet has agreed. 

The negative test can be either a PCR test taken in the previous 72 hours or a professionally-administered antigen test taken in the past 48 hours.

The new measures come amid increasing concern about the Omicron variant of Covid-19 and will be reviewed again in a fortnight’s time.

The Cabinet has also agreed to consider advising parents to reduce their children’s social contacts outside of school.

An advisory is set to be issued later today and is understood to be less stringent than that which the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) made last week. 

Speaking this afternoon, Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien said the guidance will be advisory only. 

“I’m a parent and I know that in many instances parents themselves will make the right judgment for their children. So any announcements that are made will be advisory in relation to children, it’s not governmental ministers to detail what many parents are doing already,” he said.

There is expected to be a recommendation also for mask-wearing from third class upwards. It is expected that there will be an exemption for children with additional needs.

On his way into the Cabinet meeting this morning Health Minister Stephen Donnelly told reporters that there had been concern about the rise in cases among nine, 10 and 11-year-olds.

“I would certainly hope that there will be very clear guidance on mask wearing in schools and that will be very clear advice for parents obviously,” he said.

“The analysis we saw last night shows that it’s particularly high in nine, 10 and 11 year olds, and hence the recommendations for masks from third class. The evidence we have suggests that they [masks] really have been very effective, for example, in secondary schools, so we’ll be discussing that this morning.

“And then obviously, parents want to make sure that they’re making the right decisions by their children, they’re keeping their kids safe. Hopefully coming out of Cabinet we’ll have clear guidance for parents as well.”

There is also a possibility that Cabinet will examine legislation that would put in place a framework to re-introduce mandatory hotel quarantine, in response to concerns around the new Omicron variant.

“We have seen in the last few weeks, particularly as numbers have continued to increase, the general public have pulled back, be it cancelling large gatherings or just reducing and restricting their overall movements,” Justice Minister Helen McEntee said yesterday.

“When it comes to kids’ birthday parties or any type of gatherings, that is the case here too.”

Niall Muldoon, the Children’s Ombudsman said any introduction of child specific regulations must take into account the impact on children.  

“They understand that the world is living with a deadly virus and that’s a really sad thing to hear. That’s where we need to try and ensure that the children’s impact on the children is as minimum as possible,” he said on Morning Ireland. 

Muldoon also said that the rise in domestic violence incidents during the pandemic has been exposing children to danger.

“This inability to move out of your house and then there are restrictions around that can be very, very dangerous for children and families that aren’t safe, or the vulnerable.

“That’s something we have to continue to respond, to ensure that the gardaí and social workers and all of us involved in child protection are very much aware of this and that support is given to those children and the families are vulnerable in that circumstance,” he added.

Antigen testing

Opposition politicians have also been criticising the government’s decision not to subsidise the cost of antigen tests.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said yesterday that the plans have been shelved because the price of the kits has fallen in recent weeks. Donnelly said the tests are now available for between €3-4 in some supermarkets and pharmacies, so the need to “spend taxpayer money to subsidise them” no longer exists.

Speaking today, Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall said the government had “made a mistake” in not subsidising the tests, adding that while the price may have dropped in some larger retail chains they remain more expensive in pharmacies. 

“The government shouldn’t be leaving this important tool to the vagaries of the market, it’s important that the government takes its responsibilities seriously in terms of ensuring certainty of supply and also that the quality is good,” she said. 

Labour’s Duncan Smith also raised similar objections to the government’s “u-turn”. 

“If you take a box of five for €15, which is already a reduced price at some retailers, if you have a family of four or five and you’re in low pay or social welfare payments, if this is to be a regular tool in suppressing the virus into 2022, then this is going to be a cost that people just ultimately would be unable to afford,” he said. 

Public health officials confirmed yesterday 4,607 new cases of Covid-19 in Ireland. On Sunday, 3,735 new Covid-19 cases were confirmed.

– With reporting by Rónán Duffy  

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