Further restrictions expected from next week amid fears over new variant

ireland
Further Restrictions Expected From Next Week Amid Fears Over New Variant Further Restrictions Expected From Next Week Amid Fears Over New Variant
A departures board in Terminal 2 at Dublin Airport. Hotel quarantine measures could return amid the emergence of a new coronavirus variant. Photo: PA
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The Government will consider introducing more restrictions from next week, given the rise of a new Covid variant in southern Africa.

The Minister for Finance has indicated that further restrictions will be discussed at Cabinet, while the Tánaiste has said the State will “act quickly” in its response to the new variant.

The B.1.1.529 variant, which scientists fear may be more transmissible than the dominant Delta variant, has been discovered in South Africa’s most populous province of Gauteng.

One case has been detected in Belgium, found in an unvaccinated woman who had returned to the country from Egypt on November 11th.

The European Commission President called for a suspension of air travel to southern Africa. Ursula von der Leyen also said vaccine producers are obliged to adapt their jabs as soon as new variants emerge. The news has rattled global markets.

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In Ireland, the Department of Foreign Affairs has updated its travel guidance and is now advising people to “avoid all non-essential travel” to South Africa. There are no direct flights from South Africa to Ireland.

Paschal Donohoe said hotel quarantine measures could be signed off on as early as today and further measures are likely to be discussed at a full Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Claire Byrne, Mr Donohoe warned that community transmission of the virus is currently "high" which he said means the starting position for dealing with any new variant is "not what we wish it to be".

"I think, given what has happened with this variant, there certainly will be, as we move into Cabinet next Tuesday, the possibility of needing to take further decisions," he said.

Mr Donohoe said the Government will be making a decision on reintroducing hotel quarantine for those coming from South Africa and other countries where the new variant has been found "imminently".

"Every hour, every day does matter. And that's why a decision on this will happen very quickly."

Impacted countries

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However, he said any form of hotel quarantine would be "very different in scope and scale" and would be limited to a small number of countries.

"If there is a need to meet today that will quickly be implemented. This is the kind of decision that if it does require a full Cabinet decision can be done incorporeally, and that will happen quickly," Mr Donohoe said.

"I believe, and anticipate that we will need to make changes," he said, adding that any Irish people currently in impacted countries will have to be considered.

Any reintroduction of hotel quarantining will require legislation, but he hopes the Dáil would act very quickly on this.

"We are reminded and confronted to yet again, with a virus that is ever-changing. But what will not change is the ability of our country to get through this challenge and get to a better place," he said.

'Acting quickly'

Meanwhile, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has also confirmed that ministers are meeting on Friday to discuss the new variant.

“We don’t know very much about this variant yet,” he said.

“We don’t know yet if it’s going to be a variant of concern, but I think it is fair to say that given our experience with the Delta variant that originated in India, I think governments in the UK and Europe were slow to act on that, and I want to make sure that we are not slow to act on this occasion, so we are going to act quickly,” Mr Varakdar added.

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“We expect them to make an announcement on travel restrictions later in the day.”

Ministers are examining the idea of bringing in additional restrictions such as visas and mandatory home quarantine.

“The legislation has lapsed for mandatory hotel quarantine. So if we introduced that we’ll need to legislate next week to do so,” Mr Varadkar added.

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