Irish government bans flights from UK and limits ferries to freight

The Irish government has imposed a 48-hour ban on travel from Britain to Ireland, the country’s transport minister has confirmed.

The restrictions will come into force at midnight on Sunday.

The rules are to be reviewed during Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting but it is understood they will be extended beyond then.

Eamon Ryan said there will be a 48-hour ban on flights arriving in Ireland from Britain, while ferries will continue to operate for freight.

Speaking at Government Buildings in Dublin on Sunday, Mr Ryan said: “We need haulage coming in to keep our shelves full but other passengers will be restricted.

“I talked to the UK minister this morning and have been talking throughout the day with the Taoiseach (Micheal Martin) and the Tanaiste (Leo Varadkar), the health minister, foreign affairs minister and others involved.

“We have to do this because the UK Government themselves has put in place very strict restrictions on movements.

“This new strain of coronavirus, which they have identified, seems to have a much higher transmission rate.

“On a precautionary basis it’s right for us to follow up on the Dutch, Belgium, Italian and other governments will do the same.

“Any passengers who are in transit will have to set up a mechanism to repatriate them in a safe way, but general travel between here and Britain is going to be restricted and we are going to review that at Cabinet to see if there will be any further changes.”

Mr Ryan said there is a concern over the spike in coronavirus cases in the last few days in Ireland.

“We have put it in place for 48 hours but there will be changing developments, we will assess how it works and how we manage it from there,” Mr Ryan added.

“It’s not as if after 48 hours there will be a loosening but it’s right to do it on a phased, test basis to restrict traffic now on a precautionary principle and then review it in 48 hours’ time.”

It follows the decision of a number of European countries to impose bans on flights from the UK over fears the new more-transmissible variant of coronavirus in England could spread.

Scientists have warned the new variant could be up to 70% more transmissible than the original virus.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced sweeping restrictions in London and the South East in a bid to get the disease under control.

It was confirmed on Sunday that four more people have died with Covid-19 in Ireland, bringing the total death toll to 2,158.

The Department of Health also reported 764 new cases of the virus.

Of the new cases, 284 were in Dublin, 70 in Limerick, 52 in Donegal, 44 in Cork, 37 in Wexford and the remaining 277 cases are spread across another 20 counties.

As of 2pm on Sunday, 233 Covid-19 patients are in hospital, of whom 29 are in ICU. There were 15 additional hospital admissions in the past 24 hours.

Darren Somers holds a swab at a drive-thru Covid-19 testing facility at Dublin Airport (Brian Lawless/PA)
Darren Somers holds a swab at a drive-thru Covid-19 testing facility at Dublin Airport (Brian Lawless/PA)

Dr Tony Holohan, chief medical officer, said: “Every indicator of disease severity is moving in the wrong direction, more rapidly than we had anticipated.

“We have particularly strong concerns about the prospect of inter-generational mixing around the festive season.

“On 11th December the seven-day incidence rate for people aged 19-44 was 106 per 100,000 population, by yesterday this rate had more than doubled to 217 per 100,000.

“If these younger people come into contact with their loved ones over the age of 65, we could see a spike in infections in this more vulnerable group.

“This would lead to a very serious pattern of disease, hospitalisations, ICU admissions and unnecessary deaths.

“If you have been socialising in the past few weeks or over this weekend, consider your Christmas plans carefully.

“Is it responsible to meet with your family over 65 later this week, if you have not kept your contacts low? Should you cancel your plans?

“We have the very real prospect of Covid-19 vaccines on the horizon. Ensure that your loved ones stay alive to receive them, by keeping your distance from them if you have not restricted your movements to this point.

“As difficult as it may seem, staying away from older family this Christmas will protect them – and it would be an exceptional sacrifice made for the common good.”

Ireland relaxed its Covid-19 restrictions on Friday, allowing inter-county travel over Christmas until January 6 and permitting three households to meet indoors.

But tougher restrictions are set to be imposed before the new year.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin confirmed on Friday that pubs and restaurants will be closed before New Year’s Eve.

He said he would recommend to Cabinet that gastropubs and restaurants now close early.

Public health bosses have recommended stricter measures to Government, including that pubs and restaurants be closed before the new year and greater restrictions be placed on household visits after Christmas.

It comes after the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) warned that cases of Covid-19 are accelerating faster than anticipated after restrictions were eased at the beginning of December.