There will be no easing of Level 5 restrictions at the end of this month, the Taoiseach has confirmed, suggesting the current measures will be in place for at least another four weeks.
Micheál Martin spoke today to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to discuss the latest evidence that the new variant of coronavirus first identified in England may be linked to a higher death rate.
The Cabinet subcommittee on Covid-19 will consider further tightening of travel restrictions when it meets on Monday. A full Cabinet meeting on Tuesday will decide on any additional measures.
Earlier, the Taoiseach said there were no plans to "seal the island" or "seal the border" between north and south in response to increased calls for tougher measures to curb the spread of the virus.
He said the Cabinet will consider plans to introduce mandatory quarantining for passengers arriving in to the State who do not have a valid PCR test showing they are Covid negative.
However, Mr Martin said there are "complications" around a wider policy of mandatory quarantine, because of our relationship with the UK, the border with the North, and the fact that we are integrated to the European economic system.
Speaking to RTÉ at Government Buildings, he said a "two-island approach" is being pursued, but there are "lots of issues around implementation and delivery".
Mr Martin said discussions have been taking place between the Ministers for Health and Transport and their UK counterparts, but they are at an "exploratory" stage.
Further restrictions being considered around travel include the prospect of suspending visa-free travel for certain countries, which the Taoiseach said is "under active consideration".
Taoiseach says further restrictions around travel is being considered, including the prospect of suspending visa-free travel for certain countries which, he says, is "under active consideration". He urges people to avoid non-essential travel abroad | https://t.co/sQNOh03BxC pic.twitter.com/uUXJyksGWJ— RTÉ News (@rtenews) January 22, 2021
The Cabinet is due to meet next Tuesday and will consider the current level of restrictions.
"Certainly there is no talk at the moment in terms of any relaxation or reversing of restrictions at the end of this month, and I think we are looking at a continuation of restrictions in to February," Mr Martin said.
"You can take it that we will take stock every four weeks of the situation.
"Given the high level of community transmission that is out there still, I don't think one can envisage any significant relaxation of restrictions at this particular point in time.
"On the positive side, the restrictions are having an impact, the positivity rate is coming down, close contacts are coming down and the overall sense is that the public are adhering to these restrictions and that is having an impact on the prevalence of the virus out there."
The Cabinet will also consider when schools should reopen. But the Taoiseach dampened expectation of this happening on 1 February, saying the focus of the Minister for Education now is on making provision for children with special needs as soon as possible.
In relation to schools, the Taoiseach says that work on making provisions for children with special needs is "ongoing". On the issue of wider schools, Micheál Martin says that will be discussed at the Cabinet sub-committee meeting on Monday | https://t.co/sQNOh03BxC pic.twitter.com/CgOHodriPK— RTÉ News (@rtenews) January 22, 2021
Asked if parents can expect schools to open next month, he said: "I do not want to pre-empt the Cabinet sub-committee meeting on Monday, but clearly community transmission levels are too high.
"The focus right now is on special schools and the whole area of special education."
The Taoiseach later appeared on CNN's Amanpour programme and was asked if he will be the first international head of state to meet new US President Joe Biden and travel to Washington for St Patrick's Day.
"Well there have been no decisions made in relation to that," he replied. "I did invite President Biden to Ireland and he rather jokingly said to me 'Try to keep me out'."
Mr Martin also told the programme that Mr Biden has "real decency that ...is appreciated by all generations of Ireland".
It's a source of great pride in Ireland that the great-grandson of Irish emigrants has become the President of the United States of America, a great democracy.— Micheál Martin (@MichealMartinTD) January 22, 2021
Both of us are very keen to cement that very historic relationship between America and Ireland. #Amanpour https://t.co/nxfvHJK1by
Later, the Taoiseach said on Twitter that it was a "source of great pride in Ireland that the great-grandson of Irish emigrants has become the President of the United States of America, a great democracy.
"Both of us are very keen to cement that very historic relationship between America and Ireland."
Additional reporting: Paul Cunningham