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Health Minister Stephen Donnelly on Virgin Media Television last night. Twitter/Virgin Media
strong advice

Donnelly: 'Not legally possible' to tell people to quarantine in bedrooms, instead there's 'public health advice'

The Health Minister’s comments on television have been questioned by opposition politicians.

HEALTH MNISTER STEPHEN Donnelly has said there will be no legal basis to tell people to self-isolate in their bedrooms but that “strong public health advice” will contain this message. 

The clarification comes after comments made by the minister last night about the government’s new “mandatory quarantine” measures prompted criticisms from opposition politicians. 

Under the plans announced by government that have not yet been finalised, persons arriving from Brazil and South Africa or those without a negative PCR test will be required to quarantine in a designated facility such as a hotel, with that quarantine lasting for 14-days.  

Other arrivals will be legally required to undertake quarantine at home, with that obligation ending if they receive another negative PCR test taken five days after arrivals. 

Speaking on The Tonight Show on Virgin Media One last night, Donnelly said that this quarantine would take place in somebody’s residence but not necessarily in their bedroom

Speaking on this morning, Labour leader Alan Kelly said that Donnelly’s comments were “very concerning” and questioned the usefulness of the approach. 

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald this afternoon described it as “a half-measures” and “very alarming”. 

The new legal requirement that people arriving into this country quarantine at home essentially gives a legal basis to the previous advice that people restrict their movements.

This is distinct from the stricter advice from the HSE advice that people arriving from Great Britain, South Africa or Brazil must self-isolate (i.e. stay in their room) for 14 days regardless of a negative PCR advice. 

While that remains the HSE’s advice, a government spokesperson confirmed to last night that there will be no legal obligation on persons arriving from Britain to continue their quarantine if they receive a negative PCR test taken five days after arrival. 

Similarly, speaking on the Pat Kenny Show on Newstalk, Donnelly said there is a distinction between the advice for people arriving from abroad and their legal obligation. 

Regulations around this are expected in the coming days but Donnelly said they will not specify what room in a house people should quarantine. 

“There’s what’s legally possible and then there’s the strong public health advice that comes with it,” he said.

What’s legally possible is telling people they need to stay at home, the law does not extend into the house to tell you what room in your own house you have to stay in. And so we have to work with people and trust people and say, look this is the law.

Donnelly added however that people should be aware that if they are living with others who did not also return from abroad they could put them at risk. 

“The whole point of this is that you have to isolate yourself from other people who you could put a risk. So, if you live on your own and you go home to your own house, then you can be wherever you want in your own house,” he said. 

If you’re a family coming back you’re already mixing, you don’t you’re not going to be any additional risk to each other. So obviously your home is your home, you don’t all need to go to your respective bedrooms and sit there. However, let’s say you live with other people and you’re travelling on your own, let’s say it’s shared accommodation, in that case, you do need to go and self-isolate because you are a risk to the people that you live with.

He then added the proviso this is ‘strong public health advice’ rather than a legal requirement. 

In the Dáil this afternoon, Taoiseach Micheál Martin also reiterated concerns about what is legally possible to do in terms of quarantine, stating that there are “legal considerations as well and enforceability considerations”.

The Taoiseach cited specific concerns about Irish citizens their constitutional rights around “personal liberties and personal freedoms”.

Speaking during the Dáil debate, Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall said there has been a “consistent failure by government in relation to travel”. 

In response to the Taoiseach’s explanation about what are an individual’s obligation in relation to quarantine, Shortall said: “I don’t think anybody knows what you’re saying and what exactly you’re talking about in relation to travel.” 

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