Taoiseach cites legal reasons for not implementing hotel quarantine for all arrivals

Varadkar appears to contradict Donnelly on whether people in shared homes have to stay in rooms

There are “compelling legal reasons” why the Government cannot implement a system of mandatory hotel quarantining for all incoming passengers, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said. Video: Oireachtas TV

 

There are “compelling legal reasons” why the Government cannot implement a system of mandatory hotel quarantining for all incoming passengers, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said.

He told the Dáil the Constitution had a clear framework in terms of personal liberties and freedoms and a “balancing” was required that had to be “robust in terms of resisting legal challenge”.

Mr Martin said the balance had to be struck between, “people’s personal freedoms, legal enforceability and sanctioning” and they were taking “comprehensive legal advice”.

He came under sustained pressure from Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald and Social Democrats joint leader Róisín Shortall to explain the difference between quarantining at home and self-isolation in their bedroom.

Mr Martin said the Government cannot police people in their bedrooms in the row over quarantining versus self-isolation.

“How do you police someone in their bedroom” he asked, “in terms of common sense and practicality around enforcement?

The State plans to introduce mandatory hotel quarantine for incoming travellers without a negative Covid-19 test or from Brazil and South Africa but legislation is required to oblige passengers to spend 14 days in a hotel, a process that will take a number of weeks. Mr Martin said legislation “will be introduced quickly”.

Ms McDonald criticised the Government’s “very loose, very sloppy and very inadequate” response and asked “where is the urgency and sense of purpose” with 101 deaths notified on Tuesday “a historic low point”.

She said “the clearest message that can be sent for non-essential travel” was mandatory hotel quarantine.

“Why in God’s name, are you resisting something that’s so obviously necessary.”

The Taoiseach said however that the Government could not police people in their homes.

Social Democrats joint leader Róisín Shortall asked the Taoiseach “what exactly are you talking about?”.

She said that by confirming that people could not be policed in their homes meant there should be mandatory 14-day hotel quarantining for incoming travellers.

Ms Shortall said “the question of mandatory hotel quarantine is absolutely essential and we should be doing that for everybody.

“I can’t understand why you won’t go with that policy which has proven so successful in other countries that have operated that you just haven’t provided any explanation for that.”

Labour leader Alan Kelly said mandatory hotel quarantining was necessary for all arriving passengers. Home quarantining “is a waste of time”.

Self-isolate

Earlier, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said people living in shared accommodation should self-isolate in their rooms for 14 days when returning from abroad.

On Tuesday night, Mr Donnelly said on television people returning from travel abroad had to quarantine in their home, not in their room, leading to confusion over the policy.

Labour Party leader Alan Kelly said Mr Donnelly’s comments on Tuesday night were “very concerning”.

Speaking to the Pat Kenny show on Wednesday, the Minister said “the whole point of this is that you have to isolate yourself from other people you can put at risk”. He said people coming into the State who lived in shared accommodation put others at risk so they should stay in their room. However, families or others who were returning together were already mixing with each other so they could stay in their homes.

He said those people living in shared accommodation would be advised to self-isolate in their rooms but “the law does not extend into the house to tell you what room in your own house you have to stay in, so we have to work with people and trust people”.

He said regulations would be signed either today or on Thursday, to bring in mandatory home quarantine “which is a really serious thing, it’s a prosecutable offence”.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar appeared to contradict Mr Donnelly. Asked if people arriving into the State with a negative PCR test could mix with others living in the home and whether those in the households who are not in quarantine can leave the building, Mr Varadkar said: “Yeah you could.”

Mr Varadkar added: “You’re talking about people who haven’t tested positive for Covid. If at the moment you’re somebody who has actually tested positive for Covid – at the moment you are required to self-isolate.

“But if you’re a close contact you’re required to restrict your movements. So this is the equivalent of somebody who is a close contact. Yes they have come in from overseas but they have tested negative.”

Mr Varadkar’s spokeswoman was asked for clarification on the apparent contraction.

She restated the Tánaiste’s explanation for how home quarantining will work.

She said: “Under the new system, people who have arrived from Schedule One (lower risk) countries, must have had a negative test 72 hours prior to travel and will also be subject to mandatory home quarantine. This means having to stay at home for 14 days, unless they get a second negative test at 5 days.”

She added: “They are akin to close contacts, rather than people who have been diagnosed with Covid-19. They must restrict movements and should not leave their homes. They may interact with people within their homes, if necessary.”

A spokesman for Mr Donnelly later offered the same explanation as Mr Varardkar’s spokeswoman.

He also said that such people are akin to close contacts rather than those diagnosed with Covid-19 and they “may interact with people within their homes, if necessary.”

Mr Donnelly’s spokesman said: “People coming from Schedule Two (higher risk) countries, at the moment Brazil and South Africa, will be subject to hotel room quarantine for 14 days regardless of their test results. They are coming from high risk countries and will be treated as though they are positive and thus must self-isolate.”

He said there will be additional public health advice that people returning home from higher risk countries before designated facilities like hotels are available – should try and live in their own rooms and not share bathrooms.

But he said this will be advice and will not be legally enforceable.

‘Big logistical operation’

Current HSE advice says passengers who arrive from Britain, Brazil or South Africa have to self-isolate in a room. Arrivals from other countries, except the North or countries listed as green by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, have to stay at home.

Mr Varadkar said bringing in mandatory quarantine in hotels was “a big logistical operation” which would involve security and people being detained in a locked room for 14 days. He said their meals have to be provided and there are issues around their mental health, medical care and testing.

“All these things need to be done and done well and properly,” he said. He said charging the quarantined passengers for their stay also requires primary legislation.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney called on Opposition parties to support the primary legislation required to implement mandatory hotel quarantine for incoming passengers.

“If the Dáil co-operates then this can be done quickly,” he told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.

Fines

New regulations have been already introduced to increase fines on people who violate the existing Covid restrictions, increasing the fines from €100-€500 for people who travel outside 5km from their home without a valid excuse.

The Garda said they had stopped 280 people travelling to or from Dublin Airport over the weekend without a valid excuse and imposed the €100 penalty on them. As of Monday, the relevant fine rose to €500. Officials said that people could be fined on the way out, and on the return journey. If a number of people are sharing a car, they can all be fined separately.

Officials said that anyone who refuses a garda instruction to abandon their journey could be charged under public health legislation, and fined up to €2,500 on conviction, and/or sentenced to six months in prison.