More than 5,500 people have entered the Republic of Ireland from countries deemed high risk from Covid-19, including over 2,000 passengers from Brazil, during a 28-day period this year, the Sunday Independent has revealed.
The confidential figures given to the Cabinet have emerged amid concern about the arrival of the so-called P1 Brazilian variant in Ireland.
The first three cases of the more transmissible variant were associated with recent travel from Brazil.
Public health officials say there is no evidence of wider transmission of this variant, against which vaccines may be less effective.
Ministers were told that over a 28-day period in January and February, 5,564 people arrived from the 20 category two high-risk countries, including 2,194 from the UAE, 2,004 from Brazil, 499 from South Africa and 867 from the other 17 countries on the list.
At present, arrivals from these countries are required to self-quarantine at home for 14 days, but legislation to be passed in the coming weeks will set up mandatory hotel quarantine for all arrivals, including Irish citizens, from these 20 countries.
It comes as the three Coalition party leaders and senior ministers were told on Thursday that 500,000 people in Ireland will be fully vaccinated by the end of April, with up to 2.2 million receiving their first and second doses by the end of July.
The Cabinet Covid sub-committee was given new indicative timelines which show that as many as 3.5 million first doses will be administered by the end of July, provided there is no disruption to anticipated supplies of vaccines.
Ministers now expect that 250,000 people will be given vaccine doses every week, beginning in April.
This means Health Minister Stephen Donnelly's target of having every adult in the country being offered a vaccine by the end of September will be met, provided there are no supply issues or the impact of new variants disrupts distribution.
Mr Donnelly is expected this week to outline plans to increase vaccine prioritisation for those with underlying health conditions.
A revised Living with Covid plan will outline proposals for a slow and cautious reopening of the country, but with no firm dates, as the Government remains concerned about the impact of new variants on both the disease and the vaccination programme.
Separately, a major overhaul of outdated licensing laws could allow pubs, bars, nightclubs and off-licences to open for longer and make it easier for theatres, galleries, and other cultural venues to sell alcohol. Justice Minister Helen McEntee is planning new legislation this year as part of plans to revitalise the night-time economy once Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said yesterday that he did not foresee pubs or restaurants reopening before the middle of the summer - which would be the end of June - prompting a renewed warning from the hospitality sector that businesses are facing "financial ruin and meltdown".
Also speaking yesterday, HSE chief operating officer Dr Colm Henry told RTÉ that the three people that arrived with the Brazilian variant were identified at Dublin Airport and are in isolation.
"I can't say they've been completely ring-fenced but the actions taken by our public health teams - we have a special outbreak team looking at South Africa and Brazil - has ensured these cases were isolated and tested. That contact tracing and observation is not yet complete, but our hope is that we can ring-fence these cases," Dr Henry added.