DUBLIN — People traveling to Ireland must carry proof of a negative COVID-19 test even if they are fully vaccinated against the disease, the government announced Tuesday night in a major tightening of travel restrictions.
The new document checks will come into force Friday and be required for all passengers over age 11 bound for Irish airports and ferry terminals, including from Britain.
The Irish move introduces new friction into the Common Travel Area, which for decades has allowed citizens of Ireland and Britain to travel freely between both islands, a flexibility being maintained despite Brexit.
While British authorities have begun requiring travelers from all other countries to self-isolate upon arrival and produce a negative PCR test, they are exempting travelers arriving from Ireland, reflecting that Common Travel Area freedom.
But Prime Minister Micheál Martin told lawmakers that Ireland’s tighter rules are urgently needed to suppress the arrival of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. While Irish authorities suspect that the variant has already arrived, no cases have been confirmed.
Starting Friday, airlines and ferry operators must start checking that all Ireland-bound passengers over age 11 have documents from a professional testing center showing they are not infected with COVID-19. Negative results must have been recorded within 48 hours of arrival in Ireland in the case of antigen tests, 72 hours for the costlier and more accurate PCR tests.
Until now, Ireland had not required travelers to produce negative test results if they could show documentary evidence of full vaccination or recovery from infection.
Ireland also is reopening its hotel-based quarantine centers barely two months after suspending operation of the heavily criticized facilities, which featured high costs and weak enforcement regimes. At their peak in May, the quarantine hotels held more than 1,000 travelers, many of whom had to pay €1,875 in advance for their rooms and meals.
Martin said the government would introduce emergency legislation Thursday to require arrivals from designated high-risk countries once again to be confined to these quarantine hotels for up to 12 days.