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Strong political support at Cabinet for exempting fully vaccinated people from hotel quarantine

The health minister said room capacity will be ramped up to 1,300.

Image: Leon Farrell

Updated Apr 14th 2021, 4:08 PM

A NUMBER OF ministers spoke out in support of allowing fully vaccinated people to be exempted from mandatory hotel quarantine. 

Yesterday, Higher Education Minister Simon Harris said no one that has been fully vaccinated should face hotel quarantine. 

The matter was discussed at today’s Cabinet, with Health Minister Stephen Donnelly understood to have a list with him of the countries that already exempt people who have been vaccinated from detention in hotels, such as the US.

Sources state that it was agreed that a body of work would be done to ensure these people are exempted, with a long discussion also taking place about adopting a more “humanitarian” approach to the system.

It is believed there is strong political support for it, but sources state there will be resistance to the move. 

Acting Chief Medical Officer Ronan Glynn told the Oireachtas Committee on Health that he was not in favour of allowing fully vaccinated people to be exempt from quarantine, with some stating there will be a clash in relation to this at some point. 

Last Friday, The Journal revealed that the Health Protection Surveillance Centre have been tasked with giving advice on the exemption of those vaccinated.

Criticisms have been levelled at the Department of Health and and health minister over the latest mandatory hotel quarantine chaos.

Mandatory hotel quarantine bookings were “paused” on a precautionary basis last night in order to ramp up capacity in the system, the minister said.

Donnelly confirmed that no new bookings in mandatory hotel quarantine will be available until next Monday.

In a statement released later, the Department of Health said that those who have already made their bookings are not affected, and people can still book dates from Monday 19 April onwards.

A number of countries with close relations to Ireland – the US, Canada, France, and Italy – are to officially go on the ‘category 2′ list from this Thursday, 15 April.  

“There is still a high-level of walk-ins which shouldn’t be happening,” he said.

The minister said some carriers – ferries and airlines – have let people on board without having a booking to stay at the hotels.

He said the carriers and ferry companies are legally obliged to only let people on board when they have proof of a negative PCR test, have filled in the passenger locator form and when they present a booking form for mandatory hotel quarantine.

So, what does this mean for people due to arrive into Ireland in the coming days?

The minister confirmed to The Journal last night that there will be hotel capacity for international arrivals coming from Thursday without a pre-booked quarantine room as there is a buffer in place to accommodate walk-ins.

However, the additional pressures on capacity are due to the number of arrivals that are coming without a prior booking.

Donnelly added that from Monday, capacity would increase from 650 rooms to about 960 rooms.

From Monday week, over 1,300 rooms will be available in the mandatory hotel quarantine system, he said.

Criticisms and tensions

The pausing of the system just a few days after the announcement of its expansion is being criticised by both those in and outside government. 

Opposition TDs have said it is down to “shambolic planning”.

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Transport Darren O’Rourke said the”half-hearted implementation” was the cause of the latest mandatory hotel quarantine chaos.

He said it is incomprehensible how enough hotel rooms were not secured in advance of the rollout. O’Rourke said it is an important tool in our defence at this time.

Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall said it is “beggars belief the government is unable to find additional capacity”.

People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy criticised the government for their “half-hearted and ham-fisted” approach.

Meanwhile, critics within government argue that these issues were well flagged with the Department of Health and were the crux of the disagreements over the last week. 

When the initial fallout happened ahead of last weekend, a number of practical questions were posed to the Department of Health about how an expanded system might work.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney mentioned some of these publicly, as did Leo Varadkar. These centred around hotel capacity.

There’s no doubt there was a heated discussion around the Cabinet table today about the system and whether it is operational, with issues such as the mounting court cases, as well as capacity likely to have been raised.

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Waiting to gain entry

Serious concerns were raised last night by some in government about Ireland’s connectivity, stating that by next week there could be a waiting list to get into the country, which could last months, even perhaps to the end of the year.

Those concerns were echoed by Mark Redmond of the American Chamber of Commerce who told RTÉ’s News at One today that it is not just an issue for multinationals but also for the 650 Irish companies that operate in the US.

Concerns have been raised at the highest levels in relation to the court cases that have arisen, and the sustainability of not allowing fully vaccinated people to be exempt from quarantine. 

Those raising the concerns point to the CDC advice in the US that states that those who have been fully vaccinated are allowed to travel domestically and internationally without a pre-travel test depending on their destination. 

The latest stats from the CSO on air travel for Q4 2020 show that 372,000 came into Ireland in the last three months of 2020, while flights were down by 91%.

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