Fully vaccinated Irish woman unable to fly home for brother’s funeral

Applying for a mandatory hotel quarantine exemption can’t be done before arriving into Ireland

Emily Kelly: ’A flight tomorrow would cost €1,100, pre-booking the hotel would cost €1,800. There’s just too much uncertainty’

Emily Kelly: ’A flight tomorrow would cost €1,100, pre-booking the hotel would cost €1,800. There’s just too much uncertainty’

 

An Irish woman based in Qatar has criticised the State’s mandatory hotel quarantine system, saying there is no way to apply for an exemption before arriving into the country and funerals are not counted as an exception.

Emily Kelly, originally from Dungarvan in Co Waterford, has been living in Qatar since 2012. She has not been home since Christmas 2019.

Ms Kelly’s oldest brother died unexpectedly on Wednesday, and she was planning on flying home to attend his burial on Sunday.

She is a healthcare worker and has been fully vaccinated. She said she received her second dose of the Pfizer vaccine on March 3rd.

She has also received a negative Covid test, taken on Friday.

All incoming travellers from Qatar are required to enter mandatory hotel quarantine, but Ms Kelly was hoping that because she is fully vaccinated and there had been a family tragedy, she might be exempt.

However, after contacting the Irish Embassy in Abu Dhabi, she discovered that there is no way to apply for an exemption from quarantine before arriving in the country.

“The [Department of Health] website says funerals are not grounds for an exemption, but it also says appeals can be considered on humanitarian grounds,” she said.

“There’s no way of contacting a State Liaison Official (SLO), which is the Irish army who looks after mandatory quarantine, about an appeal before travelling.

“I rang one of the quarantine hotels and asked to speak to an SLO, but they said they wouldn’t accept a call from outside the country. I just wanted to know before getting on the plane, what was the likelihood of getting an exemption.”

She has decided not to travel home, meaning she will not be able to say goodbye to her brother.

“The thoughts of being in the hotel while the funeral is ongoing ... it would be awful. We would have worn masks and been socially distant,” Ms Kelly said.

“A flight tomorrow would cost €1,100, pre-booking the hotel would cost €1,800. There’s just too much uncertainty.

“It would be nice to be with my family, but we are trying to be level-headed. It’s the first bereavement in the family and it’s come as a shock.”

Ms Kelly said people should be able to upload relevant documentation, such as proof of vaccination, before arriving in Ireland instead of flying in and hoping an exemption is granted.

While she is not against mandatory quarantine, she said exceptions should be made in tragic circumstances.

“I don’t want this to be a recurring issue for other grieving family members living abroad that have the correct documentation and an exceptional circumstance.

“The appeals process needs to be clearer. Surely it would be easier for SLOs to review the cases before people come into the country.”

In response, the Department of Health confirmed that appeals can only be made once the person arrives at their hotel in Ireland.

“If you believe that you are not required to undergo quarantine or you are required to leave quarantine early, you may request a review.

“This can only be done once you are already in quarantine ... you cannot request a review before travelling, and only for the limited reasons set out in the relevant legislation.

“The State Liaison Official (Irish Defence Forces) in your hotel can provide further information on how to apply.”

The Department said that funerals do not qualify as a reason for an exemption.

“[They] also do not qualify as a humanitarian reason for an appeal to be accepted from a person in mandatory hotel quarantine.”

Speaking at a National Public Health Emergency Team briefing on Friday night, Dr Ronan Glynn, deputy chief medical officer, said that fully vaccinated people must still quarantine because there is no international vaccine certification system.

“On top of that, we know of cases where ... people who’ve been vaccinated are subsequently diagnosed with Covid, involving a variant of concern.”

Dr Glynn said we are not yet at the stage where vaccination can enable travel, as not enough people have been vaccinated.