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Dublin: 19°C Thursday 18 August 2022

Taoiseach says hotel quarantining for high-risk travellers to be introduced by mid-February

Micheál Martin denied the introduction of the measure was taking too long when he spoke to RTÉ’s Prime Time last night.

Image: Julien Behal Photography

HOTEL QUARANTINING MEASURES for travellers who are coming from specific countries where there is an increased risk of the Covid-19 variant should be in place by the middle of this month, the Taoiseach has said.

Micheál Martin said the Covid-19 variants that have emerged have changed the landscape “very significantly” and that the country was now “in a race” to get people vaccinated.

The Fianna Fail leader said the government would like to have hotel quarantining in place for people arriving from a country where there is a variant such as Brazil and South Africa and for those who arrive in the country without a negative PCR test by mid-February.

“We would hope to have it in place in a similar timeline [to the UK] and we’re working on that against a very serious issue in our Constitution in terms of personal liberties,” he told RTE’s Prime Time programme last night.

The Taoiseach denied the introduction of the measure was taking too long.

“I don’t think it is taking so long, actually,” he said.

“We announced it two weeks ago we thought we would move in this direction, we’ve brought in a raft of measures since that government decision from police checking at airports, to increasing fines from €100 to €500 if you’re in breach of level five on the way to the airport, to the home mandatory hormone quarantining, and a number of other measures as well.

“The mandatory quarantining in terms of the hotel facilities, is the next stage and work is already underway in relation to that.”

“We do accept that the variants have changed the landscape in relation to this virus, very significantly, and we are in a race, in respect of rolling out the vaccination program, the prolonged suppression of the virus itself, and reducing all potential for its spread,” he added.

Mandatory quarantine

The Taoiseach’s remarks come as new laws came into effect yesterday requiring people arriving in Ireland from abroad to quarantine at home.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly signed new regulations into law on Wednesday night giving effect to the Government’s recent decision to introduce a system of mandatory quarantine for arrivals into the State.

Under the regulations, passengers who arrive from any destination must quarantine for 14 days either at home or at an address specified on their Passenger Locator Form.

There are limited exemptions from the quarantine laws for essential reasons. These include workers for repair and maintenance of critical infrastructure.

But there will not be any exemptions for people arriving from high risk countries such as Brazil and South Africa.

“The clear Government and public health advice is that everybody should avoid non-essential travel completely,” Donnelly said.

He added that the public health advice is that people subjected to mandatory quarantine should self-isolate within their homes to assist in protecting those around them.

“Further work on additional legislation to implement mandatory quarantine at a designated facility for those arriving from countries with variants of concern, such as Brazil and South Africa is being progressed and will be implemented as soon as possible.”

The Health Minister will have the power to designate countries from which travel represents a public health risk due to the presence of variants of concern.

Donnelly also extended the mandatory requirement for all arriving passengers to have a negative PCR test.

Passengers who arrive in the state without proof of a negative PCR test may be fined €2,500 or receive six months in prison, or both.

There are very limited exemptions from this test requirement including for essential transport workers, gardaí and Defence Forces personnel in the course of their duties.

Anyone who arrives without a negative test will be required to take a test within 36 hours of arrival.

It is an offence not to take the test and can result in a fine of up to 2,500 euros or a prison sentence of up to six months, or both.

People who travel into Ireland via Northern Ireland will be required to have a negative PCR test result and to observe the statutory quarantine regime.

In the UK, ministers are facing similar claims of being too slow to act on the issue of mandatory quarantine. 

The British government said it was working “at pace” to ensure designated quarantine hotels would be ready for British nationals returning from high-risk countries on the UK travel ban list from the middle of the month.

Officials said a commercial specification was issued on Thursday evening to hotels near air and sea ports asking for proposals on how they can support the delivery of quarantine facilities ahead of formal contracts being awarded.

The Daily Telegraph reported that officials were seeking to reserve 28,000 hotel rooms over the course of the scheme.

The paper said that it had seen documents showing that officials estimate 1,425 passengers will need to be accommodated each day, mostly near Heathrow.

For Labour, shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said the British government was again doing “too little, too late”.

“It is beyond comprehension that these measures won’t even start until February 15,” he said.

Latest figures

Yesterday, a further 75 deaths and 1,318 new cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in Ireland.

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It brought the number of total cases confirmed in Ireland since the first case on 29 February 2020 over the 200,000 mark. The death toll now stands at 3,586.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan referenced the new regulations that have been introduced surrounding mandatory “self-quarantine” during last night’s briefing.

“It places requirements on individuals to isolate themselves, to quarantine themselves at home and to be tested,” he said. “And there are a substantial set of penalties now on the statute books.”

Deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said that he saw commentary surrounding international travel, and spoke about how he “can’t begin to imagine how frustrated and frankly angry” people are at those who are breaking the rules.

“It’s very important to remember the extent to which the vast majority of people in this country are following the advice, and doing all they can to get us to a better place than where we’ve been over the past month,” he said.

While cases have fallen significantly from their peak in January, NPHET’s Professor Philip Nolan yesterday warned that the next few weeks will be “difficult for all of us”. 

“As we bring the daily case levels below 1,000 per day, our progress will seem to slow down,” he said. 

With reporting from Sean Murray

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