State will pay extra bill if travellers forced to quarantine beyond 12 days

Department of Health says 26 bookings already made for hotels under new system

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly, assistant national director at the HSE Kevin Kelleher, Brigadier General Brendan McGuinness and deputy secretary general at the Department of Justice Oonagh Buckley at a briefing on Tuesday. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly, assistant national director at the HSE Kevin Kelleher, Brigadier General Brendan McGuinness and deputy secretary general at the Department of Justice Oonagh Buckley at a briefing on Tuesday. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

 

Travellers who have to spend more than 12 days in mandatory quarantine if they test positive for Covid-19 late in their stay will not have to foot the extra bill.

The booking portal for the State’s first mandatory quarantine regime went live on Sunday and by Tuesday evening that there had been 26 bookings on the mandatory quarantine system, the Department of Health said.

Six of those were for check-in during the month of March, 15 were for April, five were for May. The department also revealed that up to March 7th, 4,172 people had flown in from Category 2 high-risk countries.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said further countries would be added to the current list of 33 high-risk countries that necessitate the use of mandatory hotel quarantine. The cost for incoming passenger from a high-risk country is €1,875 for 12 nights.

If a passenger tests positive for Covid-19 in the latter stages of their stay they will have to remain in the hotel for a longer period of up to 10 days but the State will pay for this.

Mr Donnelly said he did not think it would be fair for a person to be given an additional bill worth potentially thousands of euro. Mr Donnelly said Ireland is the first country in the EU “to introduce such a comprehensive system”.

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HSE assistant national director Kevin Kelleher said that while there was a risk around passengers from non-high-risk countries flying on the same plane as passengers from high-risk countries who would then later have to quarantine in hotels, that risk was deemed to be low.

There was some confusion during a technical briefing into the new regime on Monday when Mr Donnelly said the Defence Forces would have overall day-to-day oversight of the system as well as dealing with any operational issues.

He said if there was an issue in the airport or in the hotels it was the Defence Forces which would respond.

Brigadier General Brendan McGuinness said the Defence Forces had a role in transporting passengers to the hotels, making sure arrangements there were appropriate and ensuring on a day-to-day basis that the legislation was implemented properly.

It was clarified afterwards there would in fact be a separate oversight board comprising various departments and stakeholders that would manage any issue with the system.

The Brigadier General said small teams of Defence Forces would be placed at airports and sea ports and at the hotels and the Defence Forces would provide a pathway for passengers.

The deputy secretary general of the Department of Justice Oonagh Buckley said officials would be meeting passengers at airports and ports to direct them into the hotels and to detect individuals who attempt to evade the process. The department has also put in place an appeals process for people who have been admitted to mandatory quarantine but feel they should not be there. If a person leaves the hotel early gardaí will be contacted.

Passengers who do not comply with the system can be fined up to €2,000 or face a prison sentence of up to one month. In relation to any mental health needs or physical health issues that arise, Dr Kelleher said there would be clinical staff in each hotel and passengers would be assessed on arrival and contacted at least daily. They will also be asked to fill out a questionnaire every three days to check their mental health.

There will a small number of exemptions from the system for “unavoidable and imperative” medical reasons. The Government has chosen the Tifco Hotel Group, including the Crowne Plaza and the Holiday Inn Express near Dublin Airport, to provide full board accommodation, along with transportation, security, health and wellbeing services.

The contract will initially last three months, Mr Donnelly said, as this was how long the legislation was currently valid for under the sunset clause.

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