The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) is meeting this weekend to consider further measures to “mitigate against the arrival” of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 in Ireland.
Government sources also told The Irish Times that leaders will review steps taken by the UK government, requiring all travellers arriving into the State to take a PCR test by the second day of arrival.
In a statement on Saturday evening, Nphet said the Department of Health is aware of media reports of the new variant in the UK, Italy, Germany, and Belgium, although it has not been formally notified by European Alert Systems.
“The Nphet epidemiological team are meeting regularly over the weekend to monitor the situation and are currently considering further required measures,” a statement said.
Initial measures are already in place in an attempt to protect against the variant, with Irish residents returning home from southern Africa now required to undergo “strict” home quarantine and PCR testing, regardless of their vaccination, recovery or test status.
While Ireland currently has no direct flights from any of the countries affected, the State will align with the EU recommendation to apply an “emergency brake” on travel to or from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Preliminary work is being done this weekend on a new passenger locator form for people arriving into the State, to ensure that the original place of travel is included in the form.
The Department of Justice is also updating visa requirements for those countries and arranging increased Border Management Unit spot-checking of passengers on arrival.
Legislation is also being prepared this weekend that would provide for the reintroduction of mandatory hotel quarantine.
'Most disheartening news'
Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan said on Saturday that it would be the first item on the agenda at the Cabinet meeting next Tuesday.
He described the news of the Omicron variant as the most disheartening recent development in the pandemic.
“I’ll be honest, I was frightened yesterday... it was a blow because... I was kind of thinking... if we get these boosters out in the next few weeks we’ll be in much better shape – which we will," he told Newstalk radio.
"The prospect that you’d have something that could work around those vaccines, let’s be honest, it was the most disheartening news since the start of this thing I guess.”
Mr Ryan said Ireland has moved very quickly to try to prevent the new variant from entering the State.
The Department of Foreign Affairs is working with a “small number” of people in southern Africa who are trying to get back to Ireland following the travel restrictions, he said.
Mr Ryan said there are limited options available for people with the airlines and the department is looking at chartering a plane to repatriate these people.