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'These are not prisons': Taoiseach says mandatory hotel quarantine is key but can't be used for all countries

81 patients with Covid-19 are currently in intensive care units around the country.

Image: Brian Lawless via PA Images

Updated Mar 22nd 2021, 4:34 PM

DETAIL ON THE the operations of mandatory hotel quarantine for passengers from high risk countries is to be announced later, with the contract set to be awarded to the Tifco Hotel Group.

Tifco Hotel Group has 24 Hotel properties including Clontarf Castle, the Crowne Plaza Dublin Airport, the Holiday Inn Express next to Dublin Airport and Travelodge Hotels at both Dublin and Cork Airport.

The group has over 2,550 hotel rooms in total. 

The signing of the contract and the booking portal is being finalised, with the online booking system expected to go live in the coming days, with passengers entering quarantine later in the week.

The government first announced plans for mandatory hotel quarantine at the end of January but its introduction has been repeatedly delayed, first by the need for legislation and then the operationalisation of the plans. 

The enforced quarantine is designed to ensure that new variants of Covid-19 do not enter the country and begin to be spread.

At present, travellers from 33 countries and all those who arrive without a negative Covid-19 test will be required to spend two weeks in the hotels. 

More countries could be added to this list by Health Minister Stephen Donnelly following advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET). 

Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he anticipates that more countries will be added to the list. 

Martin said that he expects there will be a “significant” need for the mandatory quarantine hotel rooms. 

“The demand will be difficult to ascertain but it is complex and it has been challenging. Nonetheless it is important particularly when we get numbers down and when we have vaccinated more,” he said. 

As we move on to the next number of weeks and months the avoidance of variants coming in will be a key. 

Martin added that “there has to be a legal basis” to enforce people quarantining  in hotels and that “you can’t simply do it for every country”. 

The Taoiseach said the operators of the hotels will operate the system but that gardaí will be available if there is a need to them to intervene. 

“The gardaí will always be there to backup to civil authorities, that’s a fundamental role,” he said. 

We don’t intend to have them inside policing rooms and so on. I would make the point these are not prisons, you know we are a democracy we live in a liberal democracy and I think there are balances to be struck here in terms of how this is administered. 

Hospitalisations

The Taoiseach also spoke about last night’s confirmation of 769 new cases of Covid-19 and concern about the potential for a continued rise in cases. 

Martin said that now-dominant B117 variant is “essentially a new virus in terms of its transmissibility” and must be treated extremely carefully. 

As of 8am this morning, the number of people in hospital with Covid-19 stands at 359.

Eleven patients were admitted to hospital in the past 24 hours and 10 were discharged. 

81 patients with Covid-19 are currently in intensive care units around the country.

One Covid-19 patient was admitted to ICU in the past 24 hours and two were discharged.

Speaking to Newstalk this morning, HSE chief Paul Reid said the latest Covid-19 case figures are “an early warning signal”. 

“Overall, we are seeing a slight uptake in cases and hospitalisations,” Reid said. 

He noted that the current number of hospitalisations is down 82% from a peak in January, but up by 3% on last week. 

“So, it’s the first week where we haven’t seen a decrease and the first week where we have seen an increase in people hospitalised,” Reid said. 

ICU figures, Reid added, are down about 7% on last week. 

Meanwhile, HSE Lead For Infection Control Professor Martin Cormican said case numbers have stalled or are possibly rising, amid fears over a potential surge of Covid-19. 

Professor Cormican’s comments on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland follow concerns expressed by Public Health in recent weeks over increased socialisation. 

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Professor Cormican said the number of cases is disappointing and urged the public to “be very careful” as “there is a risk wherever people come together”.

“There is a real danger of a surge. We certainly all hoped to be in a better place than we are but we have to deal with the reality of where we are which is that we really need to be very careful,” he said. 

The number of vaccines distributed so far is not enough to reduce Covid-19′s spread in the community, said Professor Cormican. “The more people come together indoors, the faster the virus spreads.”

He said that while the situation in hospitals has improved and transmission in schools remains stable, there has been an increased spread in workplaces and other settings.

“It makes no difference to the virus if it’s a wake or a birthday party”, said Professor Cormican. 

Public health officials have previously warned of a “weekend effect” on case numbers with figures tending to be lower in the first few days of the week because many people wait until Monday or Tuesday to get a test. 

If a person becomes symptomatic on a Friday they may wait until early the following week to get tested, something Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn has warned against. If a person tests positive their result therefore won’t show up in the daily figures until Tuesday or Wednesday onwards. 

Members of NPHET have signalled they are not surprised by yesterday’s high number of cases saying a potential rise in infection has been well-flagged for several weeks but said it serves as a warning that cases could continue to rise towards the end of this week.

449,500 people are receiving the Pandemic Unemployment Payment tomorrow, a decrease of 7,059 from last week.

Construction has seen the largest week-on-week fall of any sector, with a decrease of 1,685 people.

49% of recipients are receiving the maximum rate of €350.

With reporting by Christina Finn, Rónán Duffy and Lauren Boland

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