Passengers arriving into Ireland without negative Covid-19 tests will be held in quarantine for up to two weeks under plans agreed by the Cabinet Committee on Covid-19.
It comes as an extension of the Level 5 restrictions, including the ban on non-essential construction work, until March 5 was also agreed by the committee.
The Taoiseach and ministers agreed to extend the current lockdown by another five weeks due to the high number of coronavirus patients in hospitals and the pressure on ICU capacity.
A memo going to Cabinet tomorrow says consideration will be given to getting Leaving Cert students and children with special educational needs back to classes, but talks are on-going with the unions.
However, construction is to remain closed until March.
Meanwhile anyone travelling from Brazil or South Africa will also be held in State-run quarantine hotels for up to a fortnight.
The Cabinet Committee also agreed to temporarily suspend all visa-free short-term travel from South Africa and Brazil.
Apart from facing up to two weeks in quarantine, anyone arriving without a negative PCR test will also face a fine up to €2,500 and/or up to six months imprisonment.
New laws will be introduced to make it a legal requirement for all passengers to restrict their movements for 14 days on arrival into the country. At present, the requirement is only guidance rather than a law.
The new laws will also apply to any passenger arriving in the North but travelling into the Republic. However, there are concerns about how to police these situations.
At last night’s meeting, ministers heard the National Public Health Emergency Team proposed testing all passengers on arrival and testing them again five days later.
A source at the meeting said quarantine for all travellers was deemed “too excessive”.
Most of the measures around quarantining were agreed in principle by ministers and it is expected more legislative work and public health advice will be needed before the new rules are introduced.
There is some debate over when people can leave quarantine when they receive a negative test.
The committee also agreed to increase garda checkpoints near all ports and airports.
Gardaí will check travellers to see if they are returning from abroad without an essential reason for travelling. If this is the case they will be fined for breaching the 5km travel restriction.
The current fine of €100 for breaching travel restrictions will be increased.
A source said all the new measures will take time to legislate for if agreed by Cabinet.
Meanwhile the EU has threatened to impose tight export controls within days on Covid-19 vaccines made in the bloc after drug company AstraZeneca said it was cutting the first contingent of its vaccine to the EU.
The EU has committed to buying 300 million AstraZeneca doses with option on 100 million extra shots. Late last week, the company said it was planning to reduce a first contingent of 80 million to 31 million.
Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said the EU “will take any action required to protect its citizens and its rights”.
“EU member states are united: vaccine developers have societal and contractual responsibilities they need to uphold,” Ms Kyriakides said after two tense negotiating sessions with AstraZeneca that ended late tonight.
Separately AstraZeneca last night described German media reports saying its Covid-19 vaccine was shown to have a very low efficacy in the elderly as “completely incorrect”.
German daily papers Handelsblatt and Bild said in separate reports the vaccine – co-developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University – had an efficacy of 8pc or less than 10pc, respectively, in those over 65 and the German government did not expect the European regulator to approve the product for that age group.
Speaking on RTÉ'S Claire Byrne Live tonight, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the Government is hoping to open schools on a phased basis across February and early March.
The staggered reopening would start with the return of children with special needs, followed by primary schools and exam years, he said.
But he said it had to be done by agreement and would be subject to discussions with principals, unions and other representative groups.
Mr Varadkar said that because the new Covid-19 variant is more transmissible “we want to open schools not with one big bang but on a phased basis".
He would not put a figure on what the daily Covid case numbers would have to be to allow for schools to re-open, but said: “We are reasonably confident now that by the middle of February we will be down to daily case rates that were there when schools were fully open.”