Foreign nationals living in Ireland who need to travel abroad for emergency reasons say they should be exempt from spending two weeks in a hotel and have called for the Government to allow them to quarantine in their Irish residences.
Those affected say they have been left in an impossible situation due to the mandatory quarantine system, with many needing to travel abroad for funerals, medical procedures and to care for sick parents.
Laurence Helaili-Chapuis, an elected councillor of French citizens abroad and who is based in Ireland, says she has been contacted by dozens of French people who are deeply distressed by the quarantine measures.
They include two women undergoing cancer treatment in France who now cannot afford to return to their families in Ireland after chemotherapy sessions and a young man who has been told his father is dying in France but cannot afford the cost of mandatory hotel quarantine on his return.
“We just don’t understand why we’ve been targeted and why we cannot quarantine in our own homes. There are lots of other European countries with high numbers as well, we cannot understand why we’re on the list and they’re not.
“These are people with very good reasons for travel, they’re not going on holidays,” she told The Irish Times. “People are very distressed and for good reason, it’s terrible for them.
Valeria Marino, an Italian national who has lived in Ireland since 2006, needs to bring her daughter to Italy for a procedure but fears two weeks hotel quarantine on their return could be dangerous for seven-year-old Isabella who suffers from Rubinstein-Taybi syndrome.
Isabella has already undergone three surgeries in Italy because of the long waiting lists in Ireland. “She is now urgently due an MRI of her spine, which for her will have to be done under general anaesthetic,” says Ms Marino. “This is a procedure that would take years to get done in Ireland.
“Isabelle needs 24 hour attention, there’s no way we can keep her locked up in a hotel room,” she says.
As a tax payer and Irish homeowner, Ms Marino says she should be able to quarantine in her own home. “I’ve always felt really at home in Ireland but suddenly it feels like I’ve overstayed my welcome, that I have no right to be here.
“I’m an active participant in this economy, I’ve never once been on the dole. One of the fundamental liberties of the EU is freedom of movement. I feel overwhelmed and very isolated. Why am I being treated like a criminal?”
Ireland is currently the only EU state with mandatory quarantine for travellers from EU member states. The State's red travel list system now applies to 71 countries, including Austria, Belgium, France, Luxembourg and Italy.
Earlier this month, the EU Commission expressed concern over whether the quarantine measure was in line with EU law, while Italian ambassador to Ireland Paolo Serpi said the system was “discriminatory”.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly responded he would “make no apologies” for the measures and that he was “confident” the move was in compliance with EU law.
People who are fully vaccinated are exempted from carrying out the two week mandatory quarantine period along with parents travelling with newborn babies, essential workers and diplomats.
Federica*, who has lived in Ireland since 2015 and works for an Irish homeless charity, has been in Italy since February caring for her mother who contracted Covid-19 shortly after Christmas.
She drove her car to Italy so she could bring her elderly dog for company. Her mother’s health is now improving and she’s planning to return to Ireland soon. However, she says her 13-year-old dog will be put in kennels if she enters mandatory hotel quarantine and fears he will not survive.
“That’s the reason I drove to Italy, because of my dog. He’s very old and requires daily medication. I’ve contacted the HSE but there is zero clarity around animals. If he’s put in a cage for two weeks I’m sure he will die.”
Federica has also been given two months notice by her landlord who is selling his home and fears he will leave her belongings out on the street if she does not get back to Ireland by the end of May.
She does not understand why France and Italy have been included on the red list while people from Poland and the Czech Republic, countries with similarly high Covid-19 case numbers, do not have to pay for hotel quarantine.
Chloe*, who has lived in lived in Ireland since 2005, has been unable to see her partner since France was included on the list. The couple are in a long distance relationship and before Covid-19 saw each other every fortnight. During the pandemic they have seen each other far less frequently but have travelled a few times and quarantined for a fortnight on each end.
She is “absolutely disgusted” that Ireland has included EU members states on its mandatory quarantine list and says Ireland is just copying British measures rather than working in partnership with the European block.
“The disappointment among French people is huge. It feels like Ireland is the same country as the UK now. The future of Ireland in the EU is jeopardised by this move, those who have the choice are leaving.”
Grace, who prefers not to give her surname has lived in Ireland for nearly two decades, has arranged to travel to Nigeria to see family following her husband's death from Covid-19 last year.
He was buried in Ireland but she has not seen his parents or siblings since his death and needs to sort out his affairs. Grace works in a hospital and has received her first vaccine dose but says she cannot afford to pay for mandatory hotel quarantine on her return.
“I have two daughters in college, I don’t know where I’m going to get this money from. I don’t want to miss this flight, it’s important that my husband’s family see me. Just my presence will be some solace for them. I’m praying and wishing the rules will change before I go,” she says.
Dr Pablo Rojas Coppari, a senior researcher with the International Organisation for Migration who is based in Dublin, says the country should adopt a mix of quarantine at home and hotel quarantine whereby those who have a permanent residence in Ireland can isolate in their own homes.
The State’s current measures “disproportionately affect those of a migrant background” who may need to travel for urgent reasons and the debate around quarantine has been “very insular and introspective”.
Ireland needs to be more compassionate and understanding towards foreign nationals who urgently need to travel, he says.
The State does not detain people who test positive for Covid-19 or their close contacts, groups which present “a much higher risk of being infectious than people who travelled from abroad with a negative PCR”, he says.
“We generally trust people to comply with rules of quarantine at home but that same trust is not offered to those who have have travelled from abroad. How come one group can be afforded that trust and another one is automatically denied it?”
*These interviewees requested that pseudonyms be used to protect their identity