Irish government set to impose travel ban on UK flights and ferries

The Irish Government is set to impose travel restrictions on flights and ferries from Britain to Ireland.

It is understood the restrictions will come into force later on Sunday and last for 48 hours.

The Government is to make a formal announcement on the latest measures in the next few hours.

The restrictions are to be reviewed during Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting.

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.

Earlier on Sunday, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said that party leaders are looking at flights and ferries coming from Britain.

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.

Speaking on The Week on RTE Radio One, Mr Donnelly said that any decision would be confirmed on Sunday.

“I expect the Irish Government will make an announcement later today on travel restrictions,” Mr Donnelly said.

“We are worried about it (new strain of coronavirus).”

He also said that they would not “seal the border” between Northern Ireland and the Republic but that strong advice would be issued.

Fianna Fail TD Jim O’Callaghan said that the Government will consider advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) when it meets on Tuesday.

Asked whether Ireland will implement a travel ban on flights from Britain, Mr O’Callaghan told RTE: “We need to recognise that this country is in a much better position than the United Kingdom.

“If you look at what happened in the UK yesterday, it is very unacceptable that a government would announce on 4pm on a Saturday before Christmas that people can’t travel before 12pm that evening.

“The reason for that is because decisions were not made earlier enough by Prime Minister (Boris) Johnson.

“We’ve done a good job in this country.

“We need to look at other statistics in terms of numbers, they have gone up but we always knew they were going to go up.”

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)

He said the rate at which cases are rising is of concern.

“We need to take into account that we are in a good position here but I think that we recognise that household visits seems to be the driver of this,” he added.

“The statistics from the HSE show the danger is in household visits and I suspect that Government will revisit that in terms of limiting the number of people that can visit households.”

Sinn Fein’s Lynn Boylan said: “Instead of a flight ban we need to fix what we haven’t actually done in the pandemic which is monitoring people coming in to the country and having proper contact tracing and testing as opposed to what it is.

“I think we need to have a system where people are going to restrict their movements and they are followed up.

“It is a huge concern about people coming home from Britain over Christmas and if they are carrying that strain.

“I find it more concerning that we’ve had nearly a year now and never actually cracked that nut of tracking the people coming in and leaving the country.”

Ireland’s chief medical officer has also urged people to stay at home and avoid restaurants as cases of coronavirus rise across the country.

Dr Tony Holohan said people should not meet up and warned against being in crowds.

It is the latest warning from the chief medical officer who said there is strong reason for “persistent, ongoing concern” over Ireland’s recent Covid-19 figures.

He tweeted on Sunday morning: “Cases rising quickly.

“We have low cases and deaths compared to EU/UK/US.

“This is at risk now – just as vaccines arrive.

“To protect yourself and those you love: Stay home. Don’t meet up. Stay away from restaurants/pubs.

“Avoid crowds. Use masks. Follow health advice.”

On Saturday the Department of Health confirmed five more people died of the virus, bringing the total death toll to 2,154.

The department also reported 527 new cases of the virus.

Dr Holohan also said it is not too late to change Christmas plans and cut down on the number of contacts.

The national 14-day incidence rate per 100,000 population now stands at 102.4.

On Sunday morning there were 220 patients with Covid-19 in hospital including 29 in ICU.

There were 13 additional admissions to hospital in a 24-hour period.

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 Nphet warned that cases of Covid-19 are accelerating faster than anticipated after restrictions were eased at the beginning of December.