Expanded Covid testing requirements for people arriving into the country are being examined, under draft plans discussed by public health executives on Sunday.
As The Irish Times reports, while formal advice has not been issued, it is understood discussions included a requirement for all arrivals to have a pre-departure PCR test, regardless of vaccination status.
The obligation would be on the traveller arriving into the country to have the test result already, rather than to obtain one in Ireland, with the testing system here under strain.
It is understood the plans envisage no home quarantine for those who arrive with a clear PCR result, except for those with a travel history involving one of seven southern African countries already subject to extra restrictions.
If all arrivals from overseas were subject to the requirement for a clear test, that would include arrivals from the UK, which has exempted Ireland from its PCR test and home quarantine obligations.
Health officials are of the view there is a greater risk of importation of the Omicron variant from the UK to Ireland than vice versa.
Those who turn up without a PCR test could be subject to home quarantine or a fine if they do not produce a clear result. Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan will brief coalition leaders on Monday evening, ahead of the Cabinet on Tuesday, which will also consider proposals to legislate for the lapsed mandatory hotel quarantine system.
Dr Cillian de Gascun, the director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory, said he would “be surprised if [Omicron] hadn’t already arrived [in Ireland] to some degree”.
However, Ireland’s ability to detect the new variant may be hampered by a lack of genetic sequencing.
Less than 10 per cent of cases are being sequenced at present, the lowest level since February, according to the most recent update from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC).
Almost 50 per cent of cases were being sequenced last spring, but activity was scaled back after the Delta variant became dominant.
Scientists can reduce the need for genetic sequencing through a technique that uses the standard PCR test to detect possible Omicron cases. However, this facility is available in only one Irish centre, at the NVRL laboratory at Backweston, Co Kildare.