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Govt looking at mandatory quarantine for arrivals without a PCR test and from 'high risk' areas

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has also spoken about a potential ‘two island’ solution with the UK.

Government say only small numbers are not adhering to the new rules requiring PCR tests upon arrival.
Government say only small numbers are not adhering to the new rules requiring PCR tests upon arrival.
Image: Shutterstock/abd

Updated Jan 22nd 2021, 5:47 PM

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has said the government is looking at the potential for the mandatory quarantine of passengers who do not have a negative PCR test. 

As of this month, all passengers into Ireland from any country have to provide proof of a a negative PCR test from the previous 72 hours.

Speaking to reporters this afternoon, Martin suggested that those who do not have such a document could be subject to mandatory quarantine. 

It’s also believed that the government is thought to be considering mandatory quarantine for certain areas deemed “high risk” due to the presence of new variants. 

Martin added there has been some “very exploratory” discussions between the Irish and British governments over the potential for a “two-island” approach to incoming flights.

“We are looking at restrictions on travel, further restrictions on travel. For example the prospect of suspending visa-free travel for some countries is under active consideration now. There’s a team of officials working up a range of proposals for that Cabinet Covid committee on Monday, ” the Taoiseach said.

We are, as Minister Eamon Ryan said this morning, in respect of those who come into the country without a negative PCR test, that quarantine would be provided for those. But we’re also looking at additional options.  

“Obviously there are complications as there always has been because of our relationship with the United Kingdom, with the border, with the North, and also the fact that we’re integrated into the European economic system. I suppose, it’s more easy to call for a quarantine than to deliver it comprehensively. And a lot of people coming back are Irish people coming back into the country.”

Government sources have said that introducing mandatory quarantine for people arriving without a negative PCR test would likely mean only a “small number” of people would be affected. 

Of the 1,074 passenger arrivals into Dublin Airport yesterday, only one person did not have a negative PCR test with them.

On Wednesday, the airport had 928 arrivals, where eight people did not have a PCR test.

If someone travels without a prior test result, passengers can be subject to a €1,000 fine, or detention of one month.

The gardaí told TheJournal.ie that it is currently investigating a number of breaches of the new regulations, with files on each breach of the regulations being sent to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Gardaí says the breaches of the public health regulations do not provide a reason to ‘turn back’ or refuse any traveller ‘leave to land’ in this jurisdiction.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said today that there was “very strong compliance” with the PCR test requirements. He said the gardaí may follow up on the total number of 80 people who arrived recently since the new rules kicked in, he said.

While only essential travel is advised, they highlighted some people travelling without a PCR test are doing so on compassionate grounds, where a relative has suddenly taken ill or passed away.

A number of opposition parties are calling for mandatory quarantine for all arrivals, however, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has argued that such a system is not workable and is disproportionate.

Since the outset of the pandemic, the National Public Health Emergency Team has advised stringent travel rules, such as mandatory quarantine.

Government sources state that this figures for those not adhering is “very, very small”, with the majority, as shown in the numbers above, are adhering to the requirement of a negative PCR test. 

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They state there needs to be some perspective around the numbers when discussing the issue of passengers not presenting with PCR tests and calls for mandatory quarantine. 

Varadkar has said if a wider mandatory system was to be introduced in Ireland, it could only be done if the UK adopted the same system.

Speaking this afternoon, the Taoiseach said that he has spoken to Prime Minister Boris Johnson about the potential for a two-island solution.

“I know the Minister for Health has been talking to Minister Hancock about that. I know the two transport ministers have been talking about it. I’ve spoken to Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill about this last week, we had a meeting.

The Northern Executive would have a different perspective on flights from Great Britain into Northern Ireland, and that is problematic. That creates an obvious issue. We’re not in a position to seal the entire border, there’s never been a policy position to seal the entire island either. So therefore the two-island context is one that could be pursued. 

The Taoiseach added talks around such an approach are “very exploratory and very embryonic” but that member states across the EU are becoming increasingly concerned about new variants of Covid-19. 

The EU is considering a more unified approach when it comes to travel between member States but mandatory quarantine does not seem likely. EU countries are more likely to sign up to Ireland’s current regulations for the PCR test requirement.

On average, around 2,000 passengers are flying into the country each day – down 99% on normal numbers pre-pandemic. 

Sources within government have suggested that the threat of mandatory quarantine for those that arrive with no negative PCR test would also act as a deterrent to potential arrivals. 

- With reporting by Rónán Duffy

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