We have a mandatory quarantine system in place now, don't we?
Yes. The booking system is now open, with the quarantine hotels themselves operating from Friday for people arriving from a list of 33 places, mainly in Africa and South America, that are on the Government's Category 2 list of "high risk" countries.
Why are they high risk?
Because of the spread of particular variants of Covid-19 there.
What countries are on the list?
Angola, Argentina, Austria, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Burundi, Cape Verde, Chile, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ecuador, Eswatini, French Guiana, Guyana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Rwanda, Seychelles, South Africa, Suriname, Tanzania, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, Venezuela, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Yes. The only European country on the list earned its place with an outbreak of the South African variant of Covid-19 in the Alpine province of Tyrol. High case numbers in EU states such as the Czech Republic, Hungary and Malta could see them added to the list in the days ahead.
This quarantine system has been talked about for a long time.
The National Public Health Emergency Team has reportedly been looking for something like this for months, and the Government confirmed it was putting in place a mandatory quarantine system in January. The legislation was signed into law on March 7th, and is being implemented for anybody arriving after 4am on Friday, March 26th.
Does that mean lots of people have been coming and going since the start of the year?
Yes, tens of thousands of people have arrived in Ireland in recent weeks, with well in excess of 1,000 coming in from high-risk countries such as South Africa and Brazil. Although they have been asked to quarantine for two weeks, it has been hard to police without mandatory hotel quarantining.
How many cases of the variants have been found here?
At last Thursday's Nphet briefing, Dr Cillian De Gascún of the National Virus Reference Laboratory, said 24 cases of B1351 (South African) variant, had been identified, with seven cases of the P1 (Brazilian) variant. These cases were associated with travel.
Where are people going to stay for their mandatory quarantine?
The contract for the hotel quarantine system has been given to the Tifco Hotel Group, which owns the Crowne Plaza in Santry – the first hotel that will be used under the scheme – and the Holiday Inn Express next to Dublin Airport, as well as the Travelodge Hotels at both Dublin and Cork airports. Under the deal, the hotel group will provide accommodation and food for those who have to quarantine. People will be able to order and pay for alcoholic drinks with meals, but consumption will be limited. It may be possible to shorten the quarantine to 10 days if a Covid-19 test comes back negative.
Can I choose the hotel I stay in, and can I use its facilities?
Hotels will be assigned at random, and you can only use the facilities in your room, although this will include the full range of the hotel's in-room services, including free wifi and in-room entertainment system. Food will be delivered to your door. Everything else will be off limits except for carefully controlled smoking or exercise breaks.
How much will it cost, and how will I arrange a stay?
The Quarantine Hotels Ireland booking site is now live; a two-week stay will cost €1,875 for the first person, €625 for a second person over the age of 12 who shares the room, and €36 for children aged four to 12.
That sounds horrendous. Why would anyone come here in such circumstances?
They probably won't unless they have a really good reason. The laws will act as strong protection against Covid-19 coming into Ireland from high-infection areas, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said.
What happens if I show up at the airport from one of the affected countries without having booked a quarantine hotel?
You are likely to be fined and then have to book a room anyway. And you probably won't be allowed to board the plane in the country of departure without proof of a booking.
And if I manage to break the rules?
Anyone who is caught breaching the rules is liable to be fined €4,000 and could spend a month in prison. People who break the rules more than once could be fined €4,500 and face up to three months in prison. Do it a third time and the fine could climb to €5,000, with the prison sentence stretching out to six months.
How will it work once I touch down?
Affected passengers will be met at the airport by dedicated teams, and brought to their transport, after which they will be ferried to the quarantine facility. This process will be overseen by the Defence Forces.
I transited through one of the countries on the list but did not stay there. Am I okay?
No. The rules will apply to everyone travelling from those countries, including those who have transited through even if they stay airside or portside.
Are the 33 countries set in stone?
No. The list will be subject to change at short notice, and travellers will be required to check the list before travelling, to be sure of their obligations.
So if I travelled to a country that was not on the list at the start of my journey but was then added to it, would I have to go into hotel quarantine?
Yes. People are still leaving Ireland for leisure reasons, and they will be taking an additional risk in the future if the country they are visiting, or even transiting through, goes on to the red list while they are away.
At least only people arriving from countries on the high-risk list will have to enter the new quarantine system.
Ah, well, you'll also have to use it if, regardless of whether or not the country you arrive from is on the high-risk list, you cannot show you have a negative or not-detected result from a Covid-19 RT-PCR test carried out no more than 72 hours before you reach Ireland. But you will, at least, only be charged by the day: €150 for the first person, €55 for the second person over 12, and €30 for four- to 12-year-olds. The Government's quarantine website has full details.