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Israelis question why they have to quarantine in hotels in Ireland despite being fully vaccinated

“If you don’t accept people into the country who are vaccinated, are Irish people the same? When they go travelling does it mean nothing outside of Ireland?”

ISRAELI CITIZENS LIVING in Ireland have questioned why Israel is on the mandatory hotel quarantine list when over half of its population is fully vaccinated, and it has a fraction of the Covid-19 incidence rate that Ireland has.

An Israeli healthcare worker who has been vaccinated and arrived in Ireland with proof of a negative PCR test, but is currently quarantining in a Dublin hotel has launched a High Court case for an inquiry into what she claims is unlawful detention.

Her legal team have argued that her requirement to quarantine is “disproportionate”. 

It comes after an Irish citizen living in Puerto Rico raised questions about the mandatory hotel quarantine system after the devolved US territory was added to the ‘category 2′ list – despite it having a lower incidence rate than Ireland and no US state being put on the same list.

The Cabinet is meeting this evening to discuss the State’s mandatory hotel quarantine list.

Questions have been raised in recent weeks as to why the US and certain EU countries are not on this list, despite high incidence rates of Covid-19.

Israel is a world leader in vaccinations, with over half its population of 9 million people vaccinated. Its incidence rate of Covid-19 is a fraction of Ireland’s – including when the mandatory hotel quarantine system was first introduced.

Palestinians have not been vaccinated to the same degree – with Israel saying it’s not its responsibility to vaccinate its 4.6 million people. Covax, the global initiative to distribute Covid vaccines to poorer countries, is expected to cover 20% of the vaccine supply that Palestine will need, while Palestine has sourced limited supplies of vaccines itself.

An explanation from the Department of Health

Sources have indicated that Israel was initially added to the list due to the high number of cases at the time, but the case numbers have come down, as have the case numbers in other countries on the list, with some peaking last week.

In a statement to The Journal, the Department of Health gave the following list of reasons as to why Israel is on the list for hotel quarantine.

There is no international system that recognises vaccination certification, and there needs to be an agreed method for people to show proof of vaccination/immunity. The EU is looking at the issue of a ‘Digital Green Certificate’ at the moment.

The epidemiological situation across Europe and internationally is “much poorer” than it is in Ireland at present, the Department of Health said.

The CDC notes in their recommendations of 2 April 2021 that “the risks of SARS-CoV-2 infection in fully vaccinated people cannot be completely eliminated as long as there is continued community transmission of the virus”.

The Department also said that there is some evidence that people who have been vaccinated have subsequently been diagnosed with Covid-19 involving a variant of concern; and it’s too early to know if, or to what extent, vaccinated individuals may transmit the virus.

Covid-19 measures in Australia and New Zealand (including quarantine) still apply to vaccinated individuals; because of this, vaccinated people arriving from certain countries must enter and complete mandatory quarantine, the Department added.

‘We just don’t think it makes sense’

PXL_20210409_160807590.MP_3 Dikla Craig-Blum with her son, Eden. Dikla Craig-Blum Dikla Craig-Blum

Dikla Craig-Blum is originally from Israel, and lives with her Irish husband in Dublin.

It’s been over a year since she has seen her family – the couple’s wedding last year was postponed due to the pandemic, and their three-month-old baby Eden has yet to meet his Israeli grandparents.

“We were waiting for my family to be fully vaccinated. The airports in Israel were closed, and only just opened up towards the end of March. We talked to my family about my parents coming over to meet the baby – because my husband is working it’s really just me as a full-time mum, so I was hoping my parents could come over.” 

Her whole family have been vaccinated, she says, but they cannot afford the almost €2,000 bill to stay in mandatory hotel quarantine for two weeks. 

“We would have made arrangements for them to self isolate,” Craig-Blum says. “For over a year we have complied with all the rules – especially when I was pregnant – so it’s been isolating. They always say ‘it takes a village’ to raise a child, but it’s really just the two of us.”

Craig-Blum says that she understands that up to 70 Israeli families have contacted, or intend to contact, ministers and local TDs to express their opinion about Israel being on the list for mandatory hotel quarantine. The responses so far have been very generic, she says.

“We just don’t think it makes sense. There hasn’t been any justification, we’ve been told that it was [based on] advice from the Chief Medical Officer, but there hasn’t been any transparency about it.” 

It makes things really difficult. We’re happy to follow the rules when it makes sense, but it’s been more than a year now and it’s really difficult. There’s no public health justification, and we’ve been really isolated. I was so careful during my pregnancy. We were hoping I could get to see my family. It’s making things really difficult and we don’t seen the reasoning behind it. 

She said that the Irish government is talking about additional easing of restrictions for those who are vaccinated from next month, and highlights how this contrasts with not allowing vaccinated people travel into the country.

“Why are they putting people who are fully vaccinated into mandatory quarantine?” 

‘If you don’t accept people into the country who are vaccinated – when Irish people who are vaccinated go travelling, is it the same?’

An Israeli mother who has been living in Ireland for 20 years and is resident in Dublin, told The Journal that she hasn’t seen her parents in over a year and a half.

“We want to go home to see the family, so the kids can see their grandparents. The last time we saw them was 2019 – so it’s been a year and a half now. We couldn’t go before now because it was unsafe, but we do want to go now because vaccinations are not happening here as fast, and we’ll get vaccinated there.

My whole family in Israel – anyone over the age of 16 – has been fully vaccinated for months now.
My kids are crying every day now that they want to see their grandparents.

“We’ve missed a family funeral, major celebrations – my sister’s birthday is today,” she said, adding that her parents, who live near Tel Aviv, are getting old.

“They introduced the mandatory hotel quarantine, and I can’t afford it. Israel is vaccinating all its citizens, so when we come back, we’ll come back fully vaccinated.”

The US medicines regulator, the FDA, is expected to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in April or May for children, she added, and Israel will follow suit, so her teenage daughter can be fully vaccinated soon too.

“We’ve got friends who went to Israel before MHQ was introduced, now they’re vaccinated but they’re stuck over there because they can’t afford mandatory hotel quarantine. Who can afford that?”

“Thousands of people [arriving in Ireland] from Germany, Italy, France, and Spain – none of them have to quarantine in hotels, and the rollout is so slow in Europe – most of them are probably not vaccinated at all.

“But the vaccinated people have to mandatory quarantine for 12 days. It’s ridiculous.

“Only people with green passports can fly out of Israel, so anybody who comes here from Israel is vaccinated.

No one is giving us an answer. No reasoning behind it, no numbers behind it. It feels very political. And it raises the question – if you don’t accept people into the country who are vaccinated, are Irish people the same? When they go travelling, does it mean nothing outside of Ireland?

‘No one who has the power to allow for exceptions’

An Israeli citizen who lives and works in the high-tech sector in Dublin travelled with his wife and children to Israel before Easter, and is now stuck there until Israel is taken off the mandatory hotel quarantine list.

People in Ireland saw their grandparents in the summer and at Christmas, he said.

“We haven’t been in Israel for two years, we had planned a trip but our flights were cancelled because of the pandemic. My father fell ill in Israel, and we realised we need to come over – my sister told me ‘He needs you’.”

He added that one of his children also needed medical assistance, and he was told he couldn’t get an appointment for her in Ireland – but could in Israel.

“We realised the risk” in flying over, he said. “We did fear that someone would get sick. And it’s expensive: you get the test in Ireland, your temperature is taken at the airport. It’s a long trip – there’s no direct flight, so it’s two flights, three airports. They also test you on arrival in Israel, and then you go into quarantine for 10 days.

“You take a risk, but you don’t think the government will take such a huge decision immediately… We have an empty house in Dublin to quarantine in. And I have a car at the airport, so we don’t have to meet anyone.”

He has also received a letter from a doctor to say that his child who received medical assistance shouldn’t be put into mandatory hotel quarantine.

“We’ve requested an exemption from the Irish embassy. We received a response from a Minister’s office that if we shared all the documentation, they would share the information with their Government colleagues. 

Our understanding is that the Department of Foreign Affairs commented to say no one knows who can give an exemption. This is the funny part… it doesn’t seem that there’s anyone who can give an exemption [to mandatory quarantine].

In Israel, there’s a committee who can give you an exemption to travel into the country, he says, adding that Ireland needs the same mechanism.

What’s really absurd is that this has already happened in other countries – learn from it. You don’t need to work hard to learn from other mistakes.

He said that quarantine at home, when it’s policed properly, would have been better than mandatory hotel quarantine. 

When we arrived in Israel, we rented two rooms and every day I got two phone calls from the police, and at least once a day the police came unannounced to check on you to make sure you were isolating. This is the way to do it.

Unless an exemption is granted, he and his family are going to wait until Israel is taken off the hotel quarantine list – he said that putting his family in a hotel room for two weeks “isn’t worth it”.

- With reporting from Órla Ryan and Christina Finn.

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