Travel for urgent medical treatment to be exempt from quarantine

Over a third of the eligible population has now received a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine

People who are forced to travel abroad for urgent medical reasons will no longer have to stay in mandatory hotel quarantine, under new rules announced by the Department of Health.

Updated guidance posted on the department’s website states that if someone has travelled abroad for “unavoidable, imperative and time-sensitive medical reasons” they will not be required to undergo mandatory hotel quarantine on returning to Ireland.

This also applies to someone travelling with another person as a carer, and if a child or other dependent has travelled with them, they will also be exempted.

It will also apply to the parents or siblings of a child who has travelled abroad for medical reasons. Those seeking the exemption must have certification from a doctor when travelling in order they can avail of it.

Others who are exempt from mandatory hotel quarantine include those who can prove they have been fully vaccinated and the parents of newborn babies, including those born through surrogacy. In such circumstances, negative PCR tests are required and the passengers must still quarantine at home.

Earlier, a senior Government official said that over a third of the eligible population has now received a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, with 12.5 per cent fully vaccinated, with the “path ahead getting clearer”.

At the weekly Covid-19 briefing held by the Department of the Taoiseach, assistant secretary general Liz Canavan said 33.5 per cent of the eligible population has now had one shot, with 46,000 - the highest daily number of vaccines administered so far – done on Thursday.

Changing circumstances

Last week was the highest on record with more than 200,000 shots administered she said.

Ms Canavan also said adjustments and further financial supports for businesses and workers were being examined as different parts of the economy are reactivated. Some 385,000 people are now in receipt of the pandemic unemployment payment (PUP), down from a peak of 481,300 on February 9th.

“It’s important to emphasise there will be no cliff edge in financial supports for businesses; further economic recovery measures will be introduced to help businesses and to help people get back to work,” she said.

She said work is under way to examine how supports like PUP and business supports “need to change in the changing circumstances”.

As lockdown measures are eased, she said there had been an increase in the percentage of people who had reported a close contact in the previous 24 hours – which is now up to 22 per cent. This is mostly being driven by older adults, where an increase in home visits among those who are vaccinated is driving the rise, or younger people returning to the workplace. There has also been an increase in close contacts without face coverings worn.

Ms Canavan reminded those sitting the Leaving Certificate next month, and their families, that close contacts, those with Covid, or those with Covid symptoms would not be allowed to sit exams and a repeat opportunity for the same exam would not be available – with calculated grades being given out as an alternative, where possible.

“It’s really important that students continue to follow the public health guidance and limit their contacts over the coming weeks, and we’re asking them to avoid social gatherings and to consider their own opportunities and the opportunities of their friends and classmates who intend to sit the exams”

“Nobody wants to see anyone’s chance to sit the exams taken away because they have become a close contact or contract Covid-19,” she said.

There is a real sense that the country will move to brighter days ahead, Ms Canavan told the briefing, but she warned that “the choices we make now in May are vital to make sure the virus doesn’t get out of control again”.

“We are not totally out of the woods yet, although the path ahead is getting clearer,” she said. Some 1.7 million doses of vaccine have now been given out, and 457,000 people over 70 have received their first shot - 59.7 per cent of that group have received both doses, and 234,000 people in high risk categories have been given a first shot, alongside more than 200,000 people in their sixties.

Revised vaccination plan Earlier,

the director general of the Health Service Executive (HSE), Paul Reid, said he was “highly encouraged” by the level of registration among those aged 56 to 59 for vaccination against Covid-19, and that he has not felt “a stronger moment of hope and optimism” than he does now.

Mr Reid told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland that 34,000 people registered for vaccination on Thursday while 452,000 had registered already through the online portal. People in the 60 to 69 age cohort were also still registering and he encouraged anyone who has not yet done so to come forward.

The revised vaccination plan has been concluded and the HSE is awaiting a response from the Government, he said. The three key principles of the plan were to continue the rollout on the basis of age, use all the vaccines available at any time with no holding any for later and maximise use of available vaccines.

There was strong momentum for the rollout, he added, with 220,000 to 240,000 people expected to be vaccinated this week and a further 250,000 to 270,000 next week. On Thursday of this week, 46,000 people were vaccinated, the highest level in one day to date.

Mr Reid acknowledged that there would be a shortage of 40,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine due to be delivered next week, but he was hopeful this could be made up in time.

“I’ve certainly never felt a stronger moment of hope and optimism than we do feel now,” he said. “We all really want to see this home now. We still have a lot of the [vaccine] programme to get through.”

Taking a risk

The HSE had been working seven days a week since January of 2020 and he had never felt better optimism, which was directly related to the vaccine rollout, Mr Reid said. However, he added, there should be caution as still only one in three people had received their first vaccine and one in eight had their second dose. “We still have a lot to get through, we don’t want to slip back.”

When asked about antigen test kits going on sale in Lidl, Mr Reid said that antigen testing had a role to play, especially in certain sectors, but that PCR testing remained the gold standard as there were issues with the accuracy of antigen testing for those who were asymptomatic or not experienced with testing. Lidl began selling the tests in store on Friday, with one pack of five testing kits costing €24.99. There is a limit of five packs per customer.

Mr Reid said he expected frontline staff to take the vaccine, adding that they were taking a risk if they did not. He said decisions would have to be taken on a local basis, but it was not appropriate for someone who had not been vaccinated to be dealing with people face-to-face.

On the issue of the measurement of Covid-related deaths in Ireland which is alleged to have been under-reported by an international study, Mr Reid said that he believed Ireland had taken the right approach, but he was certain that correlation studies would be completed shortly. An analysis by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in the United States showed that Covid-19 has caused more than 7,000 deaths in Ireland – some 2,000 more than the officially quoted figure.