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Health minister seeks to extend mandatory hotel quarantine until 31 July

The legislation governing the system is due to lapse in the second week of June.

Image: Sam Boal

HEALTH MINISTER Stephen Donnelly is seeking to extend mandatory hotel quarantine  until 31 July.

The legislation governing the system is due to lapse in the second week of June.

The law allows for three-month extensions, with Donnelly telling the Dáil that he is only seeking an extension to the end-July, for now.

All travellers into Ireland must have a negative pre-departure test and those from non-designated countries must observe a quarantine period at home.

The full list of countries still on the MHQ list can be read here.

People flying into Ireland from these countries must spend 14 days in a designated hotel upon arrival.

Speaking this afternoon, Donnelly said the system should continue given the variants of concern. 

He said 173 Covid-19 cases have been detected through MHQ – 163 residents, nine staff, and one unaccompanied minor, as of Tuesday.

In total, 4,400 hotel residents have gone through the system.

Of these cases detected, there were 59 cases of variants of concern, 47 B117, and 12 B1351/ P1.

He said 49 were not suitable for sequencing, and 58 others are awaiting sequencing. 

Donnelly said the system is working in protecting the country against variations of concerns. 

A number of TDs said they supported the extension, but they also raised concerns about the system, with issues raised with the minister around the standard of some on the hotels and the lack of exercise those staying in the hotels are allowed take.

Other TDs raised concerns about some vaccines that are approved around the world, not being recognised by the Irish government.

Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane said it would be “reckless” to completely disregard mandatory quarantine now or say that it’s not necessary. 

He said there are countries where we have a high risk of new variants, and he doesn’t believe that calling for an end to mandatory quarantine in its entirety is where the “majority of people” are at.

He acknowledged that many people have been inconvenienced by mandatory hotel quarantine, but he said those numbers are likely to be reduced in the coming weeks asthe vaccine programme around the world improves.

People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy said the government should make hotel quarantine mandatory for everyone coming into the country. 

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The debate was also used to raise the EU Green Certificate for international travel and the role of antigen testing. 

A number of public health experts including the Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan have been critical of antigen testing and the role they should be playing. 

This is despite a government backed report being accepted which calls for the roll out of antigen testing in a number of settings including schools, colleges and the public. 

Following yesterday’s NPHET meeting, government sources said that the CMO is still “hostile” to antigen testing, despite a number of other countries using it to reopen international travel in Europe. 

The EU Digital Certificate, as of the first July, allows for three types of certificates:

  • A certificate of vaccination;
  • A certificate for a negative test;
  • And a certificate of recovery.

EU Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders announced today that antigen testing is an affordable means to facilitate travel, announcing a joint procurement over €2.6 billion  to purchase 550 million rapid antigen tests.

In addition, the Commission had already mobilised €100 million to purchase over 20 million rapid antigen tests.

Cullinane was among a number of TDs who pleaded with the minister to ensure that antigen testing is an option. He acknowledged that there are differing views, but he called for pilot to be rolled out on flights between Dublin and London.

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