FG senator criticises ruling out recognising vaccines administered abroad

Barry Ward describes move as an ‘unnecessarily restrictive measure’

Several Cabinet members on Wednesday indicated their support for flexibility within the mandatory hotel quarantine system for those who have been vaccinated. Photograph: iStock

Several Cabinet members on Wednesday indicated their support for flexibility within the mandatory hotel quarantine system for those who have been vaccinated. Photograph: iStock

 

A Fine Gael senator has criticised regulations on vaccines that rule out recognising vaccinations undertaken outside the State, describing it as an “unnecessarily restrictive measure”.

Senator Barry Ward wrote to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly with his concerns about recent statutory instruments signed which specify that to be deemed a vaccinated person, the shot must have been administered “as part of the vaccination programme against Covid-19 implemented by the Health Service Executive on behalf of the State”.

Several Cabinet members on Wednesday indicated their support for flexibility within the mandatory hotel quarantine system for those who have been vaccinated. But Mr Ward warned that such a step would in practice necessitate the recognition of vaccines undertaken outside the State.

“It seems to me that this is an unnecessarily restrictive measure which precludes us from taking stock of persons vaccinated outside the State,” he wrote to Mr Donnelly. In the context of ongoing High Court cases against mandatory hotel quarantine, he wrote that “these regulations create an unwarranted restriction on persons who come to Ireland who do not need to be the subject of mandatory hotel quarantine”.

Mr Ward, who ran for Fine Gael in Dun Laoighaire-Rathdown in last year’s general election, has already called for the suspension of stays in hotel quarantine for those who have been vaccinated.

“We know that vaccinated persons are very unlikely to pass the virus on to anyone else and so it only makes sense that they should be exempted from mandatory hotel quarantine in Ireland.”

He asked Mr Donnelly if he intended to amend the regulations. He said people who have been vaccinated should be designated as “applicable travellers” who do not have to spend time in the State’s quarantine system.

‘Humanitarian’ approach

Several ministers came out strongly in favour of considering exemptions for mandatory hotel quarantine for vaccinated people during Cabinet discussions.

The idea was broached on Tuesday by Minister for Higher and Further Education Simon Harris, but it is understood it was discussed further at Cabinet today, with support for the idea from Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien and Minister for Justice Helen McEntee.

Well placed sources said a wide-ranging and long discussion about mandatory hotel quarantine also included the possibility of adopting a more “humanitarian” approach to the system, including looking at the cases so far and perhaps examining the appeals process.

It is understood that Ms McEntee also emphasised that other Departments should be prepared to assist the Department of Health more on issues like Mandatory Hotel Quarantine.

Earlier, public health expert Dr Gabriel Scally said mandatory quarantine measures were “absolutely necessary” in Ireland and Britain.

Dr Scally said there should be one unified quarantining system for the whole island of Ireland, and that the matter should have been dealt with under the memorandum of understanding between the Departments of Health for the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Dr Scally was speaking at an online conference on Wednesday organised by the Independent Scientific Advocacy Group (ISAG), which is calling for a ‘Zero Covid’ suppression strategy and comprises of a number of medical and science experts in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The group said it supports the recent establishment and expansion of mandatory hotel quarantine in Ireland.

‘Managed isolation’

There are currently no direct international flights arriving in Northern Ireland, but passengers can travel there through Irish or British airports.

Mandatory quarantine is currently in place in Britain, though its list does not currently include any European countries or the US.

The Executive last month agreed to introduce “managed isolation” for those arriving into Northern Ireland from certain countries once international flights resume.

“It is really one of those issues that should be dealt with under the memorandum of understanding between the Republic and Northern Ireland and isn’t being dealt with, in fact nothing is being dealt with under that memorandum of understanding that I can see,” Dr Scally said.

“There should be one unified quarantining system for the whole island, that’s what makes perfect sense. It was managed in the Ireland of 1800, they enacted a quarantine act very swiftly across the whole island and did an excellent job in keeping the plague out of Ireland.

“It’s amazing two centuries later we just can’t do the job of quarantine and don’t really seem to want to make an attempt to. It’s very disappointing and particularly for all those people who have put such effort into trying to keep us safe in all sorts of other ways.”

Dr Scally said there is currently a “huge concern” about Covid-19 variants, which can spread more rapidly, cause more serious illness and “their ability to dodge the immunity that people have.”

He said there was an increasing body of evidence from across the world that the level of effectiveness against Covid-19 from the vaccines wasn’t as high against the variants.

“That is a real problem. It’s not something that we need to have an enormous panic about because at the moment it looks as if vaccination will still protect people from death,” he said.

“But certainly increasing levels of infections and symptomatic infection as well and sometimes problematic illness amongst people who had been vaccinated but who had come into contact some of with these new dangerous variants.”

Dr Niall Conroy, public health consultant in Queensland, said hotel quarantine was part of a broader number of public health measures in Austrailia.

Dr Conroy said people in Australia can attend “fever clinics” which operate seven days a week offering Covid-19 testing and also pointed to “well resourced” public health units.

Dr Conroy said hotel quarantine had kept new cases of Covid-19 out of the country and allowed public health to aggressively find and “hammer transmission chains” in the community.