EU states and US dropped from mandatory hotel quarantine list
Quarantine system extended to 26 countries rather than the 43 originally proposed
A major row had erupted within Government over plans by the Department of Health to extend mandatory hotel quarantine to 43 additional countries, including the US, France and Germany. File photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Travellers coming from the United States and EU member states will not yet be subjected to mandatory hotel quarantine.
The Department of Health has announced the extension of mandatory hotel quarantine to 26 countries and states instead of the 43 that had been mooted earlier in the week.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly met on Thursday afternoon to discuss the plan including concerns about EU citizens’ right to travel freely and concerns about the capacity of the system to cope with such numbers. The Attorney General has written to Mr Donnelly expressing legal concerns.
It is understood there was pushback from Mr Coveney against extending mandatory quarantine to those countries. Sources have said Mr Donnelly is still in favour of applying the hotel quarantine regime to these countries or any country of high concern.
In a statement on Thursday evening, the Department of Health said that advice about the remaining countries and states including the EU and US “will be considered in advance of the next Government meeting.”
“Ongoing considerations will also address various issues including the operational capacity that may be required to accommodate additional travellers and issues related to the Common Travel Area and the need to consult with our EU partners. Further consideration will also be given to ways in which measures pertaining to those travelling from non-designated states might be further strengthened.”
The countries to be added to the schedule of high risk countries are:
- the Republic of Albania;
- the Principality of Andorra;
- the Kingdom of Bahrain;
- Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba;
- the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia;
- the State of Israel;
- the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan;
- the Republic of Kosovo;
- the State of Kuwait;
- the Republic of Lebanon;
- the Republic of San Marino;
- the Republic of Moldova;
- the Principality of Monaco;
- the Federal Republic of Nigeria;
- the Republic of North Macedonia;
- the Sultanate of Oman;
- the State of Palestine;
- the Republic of the Philippines;
- the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico;
- the State of Qatar;
- Saint Lucia;
- the Republic of Serbia;
- the Federal Republic of Somalia;
- the Territory of the Wallis and Futuna Islands.
The Republic of Mauritius will be removed from the list.
Travellers from these states will have to book accommodation for mandatory hotel quarantine if they intend to arrive in Ireland after 4 am on Tuesday, April 6th.
On Thursday morning, Mr Coveney said the mandatory hotel quarantine system should not be applied to countries where a large number of Irish people lived.
The Minister has also raised strong doubts about the capacity of the mandatory hotel quarantine scheme to accommodate thousands of people in hotel rooms if an additional 43 countries were added to the list.
Mr Coveney also questioned the legal basis of adding so many new countries, especially EU countries, where there was a right to travel.
The Attorney General also wrote to Mr Donnelly expressing concerns about the plans which have left other Ministers and the European Union “furious”, senior sources said.
“There are a lot of concerns about our capacity to (increase the number of countries) in the short term. We need to think through the implications of that,” said Mr Coveney in an interview with Highland Radio.
“Take France for example There are 20,000 Irish people in France. Many come home from the summer, a lot are students.”
Speaking on Thursday afternoon, Mr Donnelly insisted hotel capacity could be ramped up if needed once extra countries were added to the mandatory hotel quarantine list.
Mr Donnelly said the contract with the operator, Tifco Hotel Group, “allows for expansion with relatively short notice”.
He also pointed to an expectation that the number of passengers travelling from Category 2 countries would drop as they were added to the list.
Mr Donnelly said there had been challenges in estimating capacity but he pointed to the UK where the number of incoming passengers from some countries dropped by as much as 80 per cent or 90 per cent.
He said the capacity available for use at present was 650 rooms but if there is a significant increase in incoming travel Tifco could bring more hotels online.
Mr Donnelly didn’t rule out the possibility that another operator could be brought on board if needed saying “we can always look at that”.
On legal issues with adding more countries, including EU member states to the list Mr Donnelly said: “Obviously we always have to have to make sure that what we’re doing is in line with the legislation and the legislation is crafted to be in line with EU law.”
He said: “We’re just ensuring, obviously in consultation with the Attorney General and his office, that anything that is done is legally robust because mandatory hotel quarantine is no light thing.”
In the Dáil, concerns were raised that hundreds of Irish students doing Erasmus courses across Europe may face mandatory hotel quarantining on their return if EU countries were added to the list of designated countries.
Independent TD Joan Collins said students who did not have the ability to pay €1,800 for two weeks’ quarantine faced not having their studies recognised if they returned home ahead of the completion of their courses.
Ms Collins said the statement by Mr Donnelly that France and other EU countries may be added to the list of Category 2 countries “has created absolutely tremendous anxiety” among students “because they are supposed to remain in their host countries until 30th April to finish their courses”.
She asked him to guarantee that if countries like France, Germany and Italy were added to the mandatory quarantine list “the State or their colleges will pay for it.
“These students cannot afford to pay €1,800 for hotel quarantine.”
Mr Donnelly said “if there is real and significant issue with regard to their ability to pay, they should contact the relevant Irish embassy in the first instance”.
He stressed that mandatory quarantining was “very serious” and one of the measures to protect against variants.
“The epidemiological situation right across Europe is very concerning”. France had just introduced significant lockdown measures and “other countries are doing the same”, Mr Donnelly said.