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Constitutional rights of two vaccinated women in mandatory quarantine being breached, court told

The legal actions are about the mechanics of the quarantine scheme, and how it is being applied.

Image: Shutterstock/Ken stocker

LAWS REQUIRING PEOPLE arriving into Ireland from certain countries to quarantine in designated hotels for up to 14 days are irrational, illogical and unreasonable, the High Court has heard.

Conor Power SC for two women held in mandatory hotel quarantine said that the measures requiring his clients to enter hotel quarantine breached their constitutional rights to liberty and amount to civil preventative detention of large numbers of people.

The mandatory quarantine for people arriving into Ireland from certain designated countries, are also disproportionate, and “most severe”, the court heard.

It was unprecedented in the history of the State, Counsel said, adding that the challenge was not about the State’s right to act in the face of the pandemic.

The actions are about the mechanics of the quarantine scheme, and how it is being applied.

Counsel said that the review built into the quarantine was also flawed and lacking in clarity.

The court is considering inquires, opened under Article 40 of the Constitution, challenging the legality of the two women’s detention.

The State denies that their ongoing mandatory quarantine, based on provisions of the Health Act designed to help combat the Covid-19 pandemic is unconstitutional, or that they two are unlawfully detained.

The first woman: a healthcare worker with a cardiac condition

One of the applicants Mr Power SC is representing is 52-year-old South African native and Irish resident Charlene Heyns.

She returned to Ireland from South Africa on 9 April.

He told the court that Heyns – a healthcare worker based in Letterkenny, Co Donegal – had been in South Africa undergoing some urgent medical treatment.

She has a cardiac condition, and is distressed and concerned at having to quarantine in the hotel room by herself given her medical history.

She has got her first shot of a two-dose vaccine and has twice tested negative for Covid-19 in recent days.

Counsel said that the Minister for Health’s failure to take into account her case and not to afford her a more proportionate set of procedures has denied her the necessary individual-led assessment of her circumstances.

There is no scope under the scheme to have such an individualised assessment in Heyn’s case, counsel said. She had also had Covid-19 in December, and it was a relevant factor in her case that she had built up antibodies in her system to counter the virus.

In his submissions, counsel said that requirement to have a negative test on day 10 of hotel quarantine before being released was based on advice from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) issued in January.

That advice had been updated since then, recommending a negative test carried out between five and seven days could be sufficient. Such a reduction in time would be significant for someone in quarantine, and the latest advice should be followed.

The Minister, he argued, seemed to be following certain advice from ECDC, but then ignoring it when it was updated.

The second woman: a healthcare worker with health conditions

A second action, where similar points are made, has been brought on behalf of Ballyfermot woman Philomema Meredith, who has been in quarantine since 10 April last, after returning from Dubai where she had been visiting an ill relative.

She is a healthcare worker, who is fully vaccinated and has twice tested negative for Covid-19 in recent days, and requires medicines to treat a number of health conditions.

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The court heard on Friday afternoon that her release from quarantine was imminent.

Quarantine measures ‘absolutely proportionate’

The court also heard evidence from Dr Darina O’Flanagan, who is also an adviser to the National Public Health Emergency Team.

In reply to Michael Cush SC for the State she said “that without a doubt” the quarantine measures were “absolutely proportionate” and necessary in order to help counter the pandemic.

Under cross examination from Power, she said expressed concerns about the potential impact of variants of Covid-19, particularly the strain known as the South African variant, who had proven more resistant.

She also said that the last thing she wanted was that in the summer there would be huge outbreaks of the South African variant here, against which vaccines would not work.

She added that if the South African variant of Covid-19 and started to spread then “we are all in dire trouble.”

The inquiry into their detention is being heard by Mr Justice Brian O’Moore, who acknowledging the urgency of the matter said he hopes to give a decision shortly after the matter has concluded.

The matter resumes on Saturday morning in the High Court, when the state is to make its submissions.

About the author:

Aodhan O Faolain

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