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Team Leader Tester Darren Somers looks on at approaching flights at the new RocDoc Drive-Thru Covid-19 testing facility at Dublin Airport Photo by Steve Humphreys

Team Leader Tester Darren Somers looks on at approaching flights at the new RocDoc Drive-Thru Covid-19 testing facility at Dublin Airport Photo by Steve Humphreys

Team Leader Tester Darren Somers looks on at approaching flights at the new RocDoc Drive-Thru Covid-19 testing facility at Dublin Airport Photo by Steve Humphreys

A 48-hour ban on flights from Britain may be extended after the Cabinet meets tomorrow.

It comes as fears grow within Government that a new strain of the Covid-19 virus, which spreads more rapidly, has already arrived in Ireland.

Transport Minister Eamon Ryan yesterday announced a ban on flights into Ireland from Britain while restricting ferries to freight travel only.

The travel ban, which came into effect at midnight, comes as thousands of people living in Britain were due to arrive in Ireland for Christmas.

In a statement, the Government said the ban will last until “at least” tomorrow when it will be discussed by Cabinet.

Speaking to the Irish Independent, Mr Ryan said the two-day ban was put in place to allow Government and public health experts to review the situation before making any further decisions. “It’s not likely there will be a complete return to normal in a few days’ time but it is a better way of assessing what’s happening,” the Green Party leader said.

Yesterday, ministers and senior Government officials said they believed the new strain, which spreads 70pc quicker than the original coronavirus, had already arrived in Ireland.

One senior Government source said four suspected cases of the mutated Covid strain are being tested in Northern Ireland.

“There are four cases in the North which are being tested for the new strain.

"We haven’t any confirmed cases in the south but given the amount of travel between the North and south I would be very pleasantly surprised it wasn’t here,” the source said.

Another Government source said the more rapid spreading strain “has to be here” given it has been in Britain since September.

Yesterday, the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) announced 764 new cases of Covid-19. This was up more than 200 from the previous day’s 527 infections.

Mr Ryan said the Government does not have any evidence to suggest the rise in cases is due to the new strain.

It came as British Health Minister Matt Hancock said the new strain of the virus was running “out of control”.

It followed chaotic scenes in London on Saturday night as people fled the city before it was placed into the new Tier 4 lockdown.

The new strain of the virus was identified in the south east of England last Monday.

However, the Government here decided to monitor the situation rather than take immediate action.

Cabinet ministers have been in contact with their British counterparts over the last week as new information on the strain emerged.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the region where the virus has spread most rapidly into the highest level of Covid restrictions on Saturday.

This includes a ban on any travel by air, rail or road to or from the south east of England, which includes London.

Those living in the region have been asked not to visit other households over Christmas.

Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy have banned flights from Britain.

The Government began making plans to ban travel from Britain on Saturday evening after Mr Johnson announced the new restrictions.

Airlines were contacted and public health officials were asked to consider the best plan of action to prevent the spread of the new strain in Ireland.

Mr Ryan spoke to British Transport Minister Grant Shapps ahead of the decision to close air and passenger ferry travel between the two countries.

The Government is considering how to repatriate people who may have been visiting Britain in recent days and are also hoping to assist passengers transferring through British airports before arriving in Ireland.

Following the announcement by the Government, Aer Lingus said it will not operate flights from the UK to Ireland in that period.

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Irish Independent


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