The Minister for Transport has confirmed that anyone arriving into Ireland from Denmark will have to restrict their movements for 14 days over concerns about a mutated strain of Covid-19 in mink that has spread to humans.

Eamon Ryan said there will be no exemptions to the measure, even for people travelling for essential purposes.

The British government has introduced an immediate ban on visitors from Denmark, with exemptions for British nationals or residents who will have to self-isolate for two weeks along with all members of their household.

Minister Ryan said they are currently no plans to implement a similar ban in Ireland.

There are three mink farms currently operating here but no mink have been imported this year.

The Department of Health has said "this particular mutation of the virus has not, to date, been identified in Ireland.

"However it has confirmed that testing will be carried out for Covid-19 in each of the three farms "to see if the virus is present in Irish mink farms" as part of ongoing surveillance.

The Department of Health has also announced that the Health Service Executive will conduct serial testing of the mink farm workers and their household contacts.

Speaking on RTÉ's Saturday with Katie Hannon, Mr Ryan outlined that restrictions for those coming from Denmark will remain at the 'Red' Level, even if the country itself moves to either ‘Orange’ or 'Green' levels on the EU's new traffic light travel system.

Mr Ryan said people coming and going from 'Orange' regions, will have to restrict their movements for two weeks, or have the option to avail of a PCR test 72 hours before travelling. 

He said for those on the 'Red' list, which most countries are currently on, there will be a mechanism in place before the end of Level 5 where someone moving into Ireland can either restrict their movements, but also have the option of taking a PCR test here. 

Mr Ryan said while they want people to be able to avail of testing capacity here, they do not want such demand to infringe on the testing capability of the HSE for domestic needs.

He said testing capability is not something that you just "switch on" overnight, adding that testing doesn't just have to be at an airport.

He said he believes they should, and will, have testing at airports, but that it does not have to be the only location where this happens.

Mr Ryan said while they would like to see rapid antigen testing as being appropriate to use here, it is not best practise as PCR testing was preferred by health officials here. 

He said the country needs to maintain connectivity as there are people who need to travel, but at the same time Ireland will not "go the other way" in terms of the level of mandatory quarantine as seen in New Zealand.

He said the travel industry has been decimated as a result of the coronavirus, and that Ireland is following the European approach in terms of travel.

He said that the required infrastructure will be in place by 1 December to facilitate travel in and out of Irish airports, adding that such infrastructure will not just be at airports.

He said there is nothing certain or easy about the situation given the volatility of the virus, but that the transport system has not been a major source of transmission of the virus.

Latest coronavirus cases

The Chair of the National Public Health Emergency Team's Expert Coronavirus Advisory Group said NPHET may have to look at a situation whereby people have a limited number of close contacts over a weekly period.

Speaking to the same programme, Dr Cillian De Gascun said they want to get the benefit of the six-week period of Level 5 restrictions and do not want to repeat what happened as the country came out of the previous restrictions earlier this year as that did not work.

Dr De Gascun said the R number for Covid-19 reproduction should ideally be below one.

"If we're looking at, for argument's sake, three close contacts versus four close contacts, that could flip the balance" from below one to above one.

Dr De Gascun, who is also the Director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory, nobody wants to end up going through a series of rolling lockdowns, but at this stage NPHET does not know what level of restrictions may be in place at Christmas.

"I think we're still 6-7 weeks out, so trying to predict where we're going to be, I think the key message is that people have done really over the last two weeks ... but we really need to get the numbers down to ideally below 100 and preferably into low double digits".

The Department of Health, meanwhile, has reported a significant decrease in the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the past week.

The 14-day incidence rate of the disease is now below 200 cases per 100,000 people.

This means Ireland now has the fifth lowest disease incidence rate out of 31 European countries.

However, there is concern that the pace of reduction in virus incidence continues to be slow in Co Donegal.

As of 8am, there were 279 people hospitalised with Covid-19.

There were 20 new cases admitted to hospital over the previous 24 hours, while there were also 110 suspected cases.

There were 37 patients with the virus in intensive care units, with 27 of these on ventilators.

Naas General Hospital has the highest number of patients with Covid-19 at 32, with 31 at Tallaght University Hospital and 29 at University Hospital Limerick.

In a statement last night, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation said that 35 nursing staff and ten HCA staff were unavailable for work due to Covid-19 infections at Naas General Hospital.

The union called on hospital management and the Dublin Midlands Hospital Group to immediately cancel elective/day surgeries and outpatient work at the hospital.

Additional reporting Fergal O'Brien