The Unites States, Canada, France and Italy are among the countries that have been added to Ireland’s mandatory hotel quarantine list.
A total of 16 countries, four of them EU member states, were added to the list following an unplanned meeting of Cabinet on Friday evening.
People arriving into Ireland from these states or transiting through them must complete quarantine at a designated facility for 12 days.
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said: “Protecting public health as a matter of urgency has been to the fore of these decisions around mandatory quarantine.
“These variants pose a significant risk to our fight against this disease and our vaccination programme.
“This decision also reinforces Ireland’s biosecurity, ensuring we have the strongest measures in place in Europe.”
States being added to the designated list will be included as a priority on the booking system for mandatory hotel quarantine early next week.
Passengers arriving from the 16 countries added will have to enter quarantine on arrival from next Thursday.
The additional countries added to the list are: Bangladesh, Belgium, France, Italy, Kenya, Luxembourg, Pakistan, Turkey, the USA, Canada, Armenia, Bermuda, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Curaçao, Maldives, Ukraine.
Albania, Israel and St Lucia are set to be removed from the list.
People in mandatory hotel quarantine can shorten their stay by providing a negative Covid-19 test on day 10.
Mr Donnelly added: “The Government continues to advise against all non-essential international travel at this time.
An unplanned Cabinet meeting was held on Friday night to discuss the issue that has divided Government in recent weeks.
Minister for European Affairs Thomas Byrne said if EU countries are added to the list, it will be “a temporary measure in the interest of public health”.
“All countries in the European Union at various points have taken travel bans and we haven’t done that, this is a measure that’s necessary for public health,” he told RTÉ Drivetime.
The issue has divided the Government, with the Health Minister and the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) pushing for the addition of more countries.
Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has opposed the measure, while the Attorney General has also raised concerns.
On Wednesday, Taoiseach Micheal Martin said the Attorney General’s concerns were that the legislation underpinning mandatory hotel quarantine was grounded in “variants of concern”.
However, health officials have also pushed for the addition of other EU countries without variants, where the incidence rate is 2.5 times Ireland’s or above, or the 14-day incidence rate is above 500 cases.
Mr Martin said: “Those countries with the variants, that’s both my priority and the priority of Government.
“That will happen, there will be discussions obviously in terms of working through this.” He added:
“The public health advice has to be grounded within the legislative parameters, that’s the only issue.”
The Taoiseach said he was “of course” open to adding EU countries to the list, particularly countries where variants are an issue.
He was backed up by his coalition partner, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan.
Mr Ryan said on Wednesday: “Additional countries will be added – for some people that presents a real burden but it’s a burden I think we’ll have to bear because we want to err on the side of caution.
“I would expect that a sort of decision like this would probably be approved by Cabinet next Tuesday.
“It would probably take us a number of days after that to implement whatever measures, but that’s what I was expecting.”
An initial 33 countries were included on the list when it was first established, with a further 26 added last week. One has since been removed, bringing the current total to 58.
Austria was the only EU member state on the list.
The majority of countries are in South America, the Middle East and Africa.
Travellers are required to pre-book accommodation in a designated quarantine facility and to pre-pay for their stay.
The cost per adult traveller for a 12-night stay inclusive of all services is €1,875.
The stay at the hotel could be reduced if a person receives a negative test for the virus taken on day 10 of quarantine.
The Tifco Hotel Group is the service provider for hotel quarantining in Ireland.