One case of the new Omicron variant of Covid-19 has been found in the Republic from a batch of eight cases that were sequenced, it has been confirmed.
The confirmation was provided during a briefing of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) on Wednesday.
It is understood the case is travel-related and was found in a person who travelled into the State from a designated country last week.
The emergence last week of the new variant, which some experts fear could prove more transmissible, prompted the Government on Friday to impose travel restrictions on passengers from seven southern African countries: South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini and Mozambique.
People arriving in Ireland from these countries have to quarantine at home for 10 days after entering the State.
Although the number of travellers impacted will be small, the reintroduction of travel restrictions marks a further return to tighter restrictions to bring Covid under control.
Travellers from designated countries will also have to present a “not-detected” pre-flight PCR test result, regardless of vaccination status, quarantine at home for 10 days and undergo a further two PCR tests.
The obligation is backdated for recent arrivals from these countries, who will be traced and contacted using the passenger locator form. The Garda will monitor compliance, initially.
Concerns over Omicron and the ongoing high level of Covid cases in the State has led to the Government approving a raft of measures.
These measures require travellers into Ireland from any country to show negative PCR or antigen test results, introduce mask-wearing for primary school children from third class upwards and ask parents to limit their children’s socialising.
Two pieces of legislation – one to extend several Covid powers and one specifically to revive mandatory hotel quarantine if needed – are to be brought to the Dáil and Seanad in the coming days.
The mandatory hotel legislation is necessary because those powers have already lapsed, while the other Covid powers – including those concerning masks, hospitality restrictions, Covid certificates, travel restrictions and others – are due to lapse early next year.
Officials are currently preparing orders to require travellers into the country to show a negative PCR or antigen test from Friday. There will be “spot checks” at the airport to ensure travellers are compliant, but officials said it would be mostly a matter for airlines and ferry companies to ensure that passengers could show a negative test.
The Government is considering fines for carriers that allow people without tests to board, while a spokesman confirmed there would be fines for passengers who could not show a negative test. There will be no checks for travellers from Northern Ireland.