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Government decides to extend lockdown in Ireland until March 5; schools will be opened on a phased basis

DUBLIN: Government decides to extend lockdown restrictions until March 5 to reduce the spread of COVID-19. It was also decided to introduce a limited and mandatory quarantine as part of the new travel restrictions.

A 14-day mandatory quarantine will be imposed on passengers arriving in Ireland without a negative PCR test result. This was approved by the COVID subcommittee of the cabinet. People from South Africa and Brazil also face a similar quarantine. Garda inspections will be increased at ports and airports. The checks are being expanded to find those who are involved in non-essential trips such as holiday celebrations.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said that the travel restrictions are being tightened due to the spread of the new virus. “We have already reduced travel by about 95% and brought in the PCR requirement. Now, being put to Cabinet tomorrow, is a travel ban on arrivals from Brazil and South Africa with a mandatory hotel quarantine for them and for anyone who does not have a negative PCR test. For people who come in from other countries, we are going to make quarantining at home mandatory – at the moment it is not, it is advisory,” he said.

Mr. Varadkar pointed out that critics of quarantine should understand three things. “It would not be fully effective for us to do it because of the border. Also, if we did it, it would probably be for a year as a dramatic public health measure like that would be hard to reverse and we probably would not reverse it until everyone is vaccinated. So people who would like to go abroad this summer or see relatives next Christmas, that would probably be off the agenda.”

“Thirdly, they are detention centres, really. You can only let 500 or 600 people in a day, so some travel that we now deem essential – such as going to London for an interview, or seeing a dying relative – might not be possible. International travel is not a silver bullet, 40,000 people have got COVID here in the past two weeks and very few of that was travel-related, Tánaiste said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Varadkar said the government wants to reopen schools on a phased basis in February and March.

Tánaiste said he was opposed to the complete closure of the Northern Ireland border. “I am against closing the Border completely. What I would like to see is an all-island approach, if that is not possible then a two-island approach. Hospitals are in a very difficult position so the advice to Cabinet is that we should extend lockdown until 5 March, this will align us with Northern Ireland,” he said.

Varadkar, meanwhile, said that ‘Zero COVID’ would not be a reality in Ireland, as the Chief Medical Officer and Professor Philip Nolan had hoped. “‘Zero COVID’ means getting 14 days in a row without a single case and this could mean Ireland being in a permanent lockdown,” Mr. Vardakar said.

“We are having quite a battle in the EU with AstraZeneca over supplies, but we will still have 1.1 million doses by the end of March so we can begin community vaccinations in the middle of February. If we can suppress the virus to very low levels by early March, and get a critical mass of people vaccinated, we can ease restrictions into the kind of Easter/Summer period but it will be very slow,” he said.

At the same time, Dr. David Nabarro, the World Health Organization’s Special Envoy on COVID-19, said all countries must decide how to reduce the risks as the virus grows globally. He said Ireland had seen an 18% drop in the number of COVID-19 incidents over the past two weeks. But if a lot of people with COVID-19 come to the country, the problem will get worse again, Dr. Nabarro warned.

Opposition leaders with criticism

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has called for a mandatory quarantine for all travellers to the island of Ireland. She also demanded that the Republic and Northern Ireland be treated as a single unit.

Labour Party leader Alan Kelly and Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall have criticised the government’s quarantine restrictions. The Sinn Féin health spokesman David Cullinane also called for quarantine to be made compulsory for all travellers.

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