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John Doherty (left) and David Auerbach David Auerbach
mandatory hotel quaratine

Irishman who can't come home for mother's funeral questions 'arbitrary' decision to add Puerto Rico to MHQ list

John Doherty has questioned why the country was added to the list while other US territories or the US itself were not.

AN IRISH CITIZEN living in Puerto Rico has questioned why the country has been added to the ‘category 2′ list of places from which people arriving in Ireland must quarantine in a hotel.

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

Plans to include the US, France, Italy and Germany were abandoned amid division among ministers. However, the Irish government looks set to add some of those countries in the next week.

John Doherty – who is originally from Bulcaun in Charlestown, Co Mayo – and his husband David Auerbach have lived in San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital city, for 18 years.

John, a dual Irish-US citizen, and David, a US citizen, had planned to visit Ireland in May to see John’s family and, in particular, his elderly mother.

Prior to meeting relatives, they planned to self-isolate in a family home in Mayo that is currently unoccupied. The pair booked their tickets last month, about 10 days before the government introduced mandatory hotel quarantine (MHQ).

Puerto Rico was not on the original category 2 list but was one of 26 “high-risk” countries added to the list earlier this week.

John and David have questioned why the country was added to the list while other US territories or the US itself, which has a much higher incidence rate of Covid-19, are not on the list.

The couple have cancelled their flights, which cost $1,200 (just over €1,000), and are trying to re-book for later this year when travel restrictions are more likely to have been eased.

John and David had hoped that they would be able to see his mother, Nora Doherty, on the later trip. Sadly, she passed away on Tuesday at the age of 83. John’s father died last August.

The couple said missing the funeral and not being with family at this time is incredibly difficult. They have also questioned why Puerto Rico was added to the list while other US territories were not.

John, a doctoral student in English Literature at the University of Puerto Rico, stated: “The US isn’t on that list. Nor are the US Virgin Islands, Guam or American Samoa. 

“What were the criteria used to put us in this category? How is it possible to segregate a US jurisdiction?  We have US passports and diplomatically enjoy full rights as American citizens.

“The decision would imply that Puerto Ricans are second-class citizens of the United States. It is our feeling that this decision was arbitrary and unjustified. We are wondering if this decision is even legal, given the diplomatic rights accorded to Puerto Rico as US citizens.”

David, a professor at the University of Puerto Rico, told The Journal the couple don’t understand why Puerto Rico has been added to the list, describing the decision as “arbitrary”.

“Puerto Rico has generally managed the pandemic better than most US jurisdictions. Our vaccination rate is among the top 10 in the world. This is also very insulting. We are full US citizens, but evidently not in this case.

“I know that there are many cases like our own. I just don’t understand why Puerto Rico was singled out of all US jurisdictions, especially given its generally good performance through the entire pandemic.”

Lower incidence rate 

Since the start of the pandemic just over 110,000 cases of the virus have been reported in Puerto Rico and 2,136 deaths (as of yesterday).

About 14% of its 3.2 million population have been fully vaccinated to date, compared to 7.6% of the population in Ireland.

There have been 30.8 million cases of Covid-19 in the US to date and over 550,000 deaths (the highest number of virus-related deaths in any country). Some 63 million people in the US have been vaccinated (19%).

Over 239,000 cases have been reported in Ireland to date and 4,732 deaths.

The Department of Health or the Department of Foreign Affairs did not answer specific questions asked by The Journal about the inclusion of Puerto Rico on the category 2 list, nor do they comment on individual cases.

However, a spokesperson for the Department of Health said: “Mandatory quarantine is a public health measure to protect the population from the challenges posed by new variants of concern and risk of sustained human transmission of COVID-19.

“Mandatory quarantine applies to any person arriving in Ireland having travelled from or through a designated state, regardless of nationality.”

The spokesperson said one of the factors considered when adding a country to the list is its 14-day incidence rate of Covid-19, in comparison to Ireland’s incidence rate.

Puerto Rico has an incidence rate of 96 per 100,000, compared to 133.8 per 100,000 in the United States. Ireland’s incidence rate is 157 per 100,000.

The spokesperson noted that an Expert Advisory Group on Travel was recently established and “has developed detailed methodology to inform recommendations to the Chief Medical Officer, who in turn advises the Minister for Health on places to be considered for designation as a ‘designated State’ for the purposes of mandatory quarantine”.

Following consultation between the Acting CMO, Dr Ronan Glynn, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney, countries may be added to the list.

“Designations may be made for any country, territory, region or other place outside the State, other than Northern Ireland. A number of territories which do not have the status of a state have already been designated,” the spokesperson said.

They added that the EAG, CMO and ministers “keep the list of designated States under review on an ongoing basis”.

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