Covid-19: Vaccinated people to be exempt from hotel quarantine, Donnelly says

System review in tandem with diplomatic, domestic pressure produces policy change

The Health Service Executive will attempt to hit April’s target of 860,000 doses administered. File photograph: Getty

The Health Service Executive will attempt to hit April’s target of 860,000 doses administered. File photograph: Getty

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All vaccinated people arriving in Ireland will be exempt from mandatory hotel quarantine following a day of domestic and diplomatic pressure.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said regulations to allow fully vaccinated people quarantine at home will be drafted and signed in the coming days.

European Union embassies had earlier renewed their criticism of the quarantine system. They were joined by the European Commission, which contacted Irish authorities seeking clarifications on the criteria used to designate countries and raising “some concerns in relation to the general principles of EU law, in particular proportionality and non-discrimination”.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly, speaking on RTÉ’s Prime Time programme last night, said he would “make no apologies” to the European Commission or Italian ambassador to Ireland for introducing mandatory hotel quarantine and that he is “confident” the move is in compliance with EU law.

As well as exempting fully vaccinated people from having to stay in mandatory hotel quarantine, a second exemption has been introduced for elite sports and professional athletes arriving into the country, he said.

Extra hotel capacity is to be made available, with the booking system reopening last night for those arriving from Saturday. Mr Donnelly said 18 cases of Covid-19 had been identified in the hotel quarantine system, including four probable variants of concern.

A Government spokesman said information and clarification was sought by the commission, and provided. The changes came after a review of the system, but also followed sustained pressure diplomatically and from the aviation sector.Italian ambassador Paolo Serpi denounced the policy as “selective and discriminatory”, saying it did “serious, severe harm”.

Online posts by the Belgian embassy referred to “shock and distress” created by the rules. The embassy said it was “pushing hard for transparency” with Irish Ministers and officials, but “still didn’t get detailed information” on criteria by which countries are added or removed from the list.

Additional capacity will come on stream two days earlier than planned, with 1,607 rooms available by April 26th. Prior to the changes, senior Government figures expressed concerns privately about the need to exempt vaccinated people quickly, as well as the potential impact of the system on inward investment.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the EU is planning for successive waves of vaccinations, including booster shots.

“The commission . . . look forward to a situation where we would have a faster readjustment of vaccines, particularly the mRNA vaccines, to deal with variants,” he said.

Brussels, he said, is ordering more vaccines for children and teenagers for use through 2022 and 2023, and streamlining the process for designing and approving vaccines as it eyes a longer-term future alongside the virus. “What I see evolving is a more advanced sort of settled pattern of dealing with this pandemic, it won’t end in one big bang,” Mr Martin told the Tonight Show on Virgin Media.

Asked if he was planning a second round of vaccines, he said: “Europe is planning for that, that’s a potential we have to hold out for, a booster vaccine potentially.”

Impact

The Health Service Executive sketched out the impact of recent changes to its vaccination programme. It will attempt to hit April’s target of 860,000 doses administered, while the start date for vaccinating under-60s in vulnerable categories was delayed from this week to the end of the month.

Chief executive Paul Reid said the impact would even out over the quarter. He said that all 60- to 69-year-olds should receive their first shot of AstraZeneca within six weeks as use of mass vaccination centres increased. Clarity is awaited on when 545,000 doses of Pfizer will arrive and on the regulatory verdict concerning use of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Fine Gael Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said he is “increasingly confident” indoor dining will be possible this summer. He also suggested personal services like hairdressers will be open to both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

His remarks came as the Stormont Executive announced pubs and cafes will be allowed serve outdoors from April 30th, when non-essential retail will also reopen, and 15 people from three households will be able to gather in gardens. Hairdressers will reopen from next Friday, as will competitive sport without spectators.

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