I am grateful for the opportunity to address the House on the impacts of Covid-19 on the transport sector. I will be sharing my time with my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton, who has responsibility for international and road transport and logistics at the Department of Transport. I will update the House on the impacts of Covid on the provision of public transport services and the opportunities it has afforded us to make some much-needed improvements in sustainable mobility in our cities. I will also update the House on international travel, while the Minister of State will address the impacts of Covid on our supply chains, especially on the maritime and freight sectors, and also on aviation.
We are now 12 months into the Covid pandemic. Throughout 2020, and into 2021, my Department has been at the forefront of this country's response to Covid-19, just as the transport sector is one of the sectors to experience the most profound and severe impacts of Covid. As with many other public sector organisations, the majority of officials in my Department and staff in our agencies have been working remotely, while managing a wide range of Covid-19 related issues. I commend them on the work they have been doing. These staff have supported the continued provision of essential services and maintained international access and connectivity through our ports and airports for vital supplies and essential travel. They have worked to develop urgent policy responses to address the economic impacts of the pandemic on our public transport, aviation, maritime, travel and trade sectors with innovative thinking. There are also many staff across the transport sector involved in the direct provision of services to the public who have attended the workplace throughout the pandemic to ensure these essential services continue to be available to citizens. I thank those transport workers for the work they have done.
Covid-19 has reached into every area of the transport sphere and has had profound impacts on every industry and service provided by my Department. I will briefly explain these impacts and the steps we have taken to address them to ensure a viable recovery for as many of our stakeholders as possible. We all know that Covid had an immediate impact on all our lives and many of those impacts are still with us, be they personal or professional. One noticeable impact has been a reduction in traffic. Across Europe, public authorities are taking the opportunity to rethink how our urban centres are set out and how they allocate limited space to different demands.
In Ireland, we are also rethinking how we allocate road space and ensure we place pedestrians and cyclists at the centre of our thinking. This reallocation of space is supporting the Government's overall Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business. It provides additional commuting capacity to those people who will still need to physically get into their workplaces, as well as improving social distancing in our urban centres and supporting the gradual reopening of retail and commercial spaces. My Department has funded the National Transport Authority to work with local authorities in developing Covid mobility frameworks which will set out specific plans to deliver wider footpaths, temporary protected cycling facilities, revised bus routings and bus priority measures, and enhanced pedestrian priority zones. Letters were issued to all 31 local authorities in May, resulting in more than €15 million being requested for this purpose and the works identified being funded through my Department's sustainable mobility investment programme.
With the additional funding provided under Covid and the Government's July jobs stimulus, many measures have been put in place to facilitate the reopening of society and business generally. This emphasis on active travel is not just a short-term measure. It has been a feature of the submissions we received during our consultation on our sustainable mobility policy. More people are walking and cycling and, in time, more people will return to public transport, potentially reducing car use in our medium and long-term future. We are also continuing to fund the expansion of our bus, tram and train fleets and making sure we are continuing to plan and design those highly significant public transport projects such as BusConnects, MetroLink and the DART expansion programme, which will have a role to play in our post-Covid future. While I acknowledge the challenges we face in this regard, I look forward to addressing them head-on as we strive to make our transport sector more sustainable now and for future generations. I will be unequivocal in saying I am in no doubt about the scale and depth of these challenges, which are like none faced in our lifetimes. They are felt in all sectors of society, none more so than transport.
I will start with public transport, where profound impacts have been experienced. As Members will know, with the most recent move to level 5, capacity across the public transport network was restricted to 25%. Most, but not all, transport operators have moved to slightly reduced schedules, with some increased services at peak times, to deal with the lower overall transport demand. The Government has introduced a number of measures since the beginning of the Covid crisis to ensure the continued safe operation of these essential public transport services. These include restricted seating signs in place on bus and rail services to align with the 25% capacity restriction in level 5, as well as the mandatory use of face coverings.
The Government has been clear that the continued operation of the public transport sector is an essential service, even though many people are working from home or staying at home in order to comply with Covid-19 instructions. This has meant that although fare revenues have collapsed, most of the cost of operations remains and must continue to be met in order to fulfil Government's broader policy objectives. As part of the 2021 Estimates process, my Department secured significantly higher than normal levels of funding of €670 million for public service obligation, PSO, and Local Link services. More recently, the Government approved an extension of the temporary supports for the commercial bus sector, which were first introduced last summer. These supports ensure that public transport services continue to be available to essential workers across the economy and for broader societal reasons.
I will move on to the issue of international travel, testing and quarantine. As an island, we are heavily reliant on our international connectivity. We have had to keep our borders open throughout this health crisis to maintain critical supply lines and allow essential travel. At various times over the past year, depending on the level of community transmission in Ireland and across Europe, the risk of international travel being a significant contributor to virus spread has risen and fallen. Striking the right balance in our approach has been challenging because the circumstances of the virus keep changing but the health of our people has been our first priority at all times.
Understanding how best to save lives and livelihoods at various times, as the virus has first surged, then retreated and then surged again, has, unsurprisingly, required quick decisions and direction changes as new information has presented itself. I would like to update the House on the Government's current thinking and latest decisions on international travel restrictions and quarantining requirements. The extent to which the public, including arriving passengers, are required to self-isolate, restrict their movements, adhere to other public health measures or undertake Covid-19 testing is based on the advice of the public health authorities. As Members know, the Government continues to advise against non-essential international travel and that any essential travel be undertaken with due regard to public health safety measures.
Since the emergence of new variants of Covid-19 in December in the UK, South Africa and Brazil, the Government has introduced travel bans stopped short-term visa entry schemes and introduced mandatory pre-departure polymerase chain reaction, PCR, tests for all international arrivals. Last week, it put in place a number of additional measures for international travel. A legal requirement to quarantine has been introduced for all travellers, unless their journey originates in Northern Ireland. A 14-day quarantine period must be undertaken at the address specified on the passenger locator form. This also includes people who travel from another country to Ireland via Northern Ireland. They must also observe the mandatory quarantine regime. If passengers do not do so, they are committing an offence and can be fined up to €2,500, sentenced to up to six months in prison, or both. They may only leave their places of residence during the quarantine period for unavoidable reasons of an emergency nature to protect a person's health or welfare or to leave the State. They may also leave to take a PCR test not less than five days after their arrival and if they have a negative and not detected result from this test, their period of quarantine can end. There are also some limited exemptions from the requirement to complete mandatory quarantine, namely, international transport workers such as hauliers, maritime and air crew, and patients travelling for urgent medical reasons.
Essential transport workers, such as those required to carry out essential repair, maintenance, construction or safety assurance of critical transport infrastructure or critical utility infrastructure, must quarantine but can leave to go about their essential function. Passengers from Brazil and South Africa must complete the full 14-day period of quarantine.
This is on top of the already mandatory requirement to have evidence of a negative or not detected result from a PCR test taken within 72 hours of arrival to Ireland, and the requirement to complete a Covid-19 passenger locator form. In addition, An Garda Síochána can fine people who travel to an airport or port without valid reason. The fine relating to non-compliance with Covid-19 measures was recently increased to €500. Earlier, the Taoiseach outlined that the fine will be increased to €2,000 following consultation with public health officials. Urgent work is under way to establish a mandatory quarantine facility for passengers arriving from high-risk locations associated with the new variants emerging. The Department of Health is leading in this regard and is reviewing a number of options, including in the context of location, size and all the other requirements involved. There is cross-Government support for this from a number of Departments, including the Department of Justice and my Department. The Government is taking action to ensure that we protect our population from the risk of importation of new variants of Covid-19.
l now hand over to the Minister of State, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton, who will outline the impacts of Covid-19 on Ireland's international transport sector.