Government cannot add ‘whole world’ to mandatory hotel quarantine list, says Donnelly

Minister expects travel from countries added to hotel quarantine list to drop by 80%

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly says the gap between announcing additional countries to the mandatory hotel quarantine list and implement the rule was to allow people time to book into the hotel quarantine system. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly says the gap between announcing additional countries to the mandatory hotel quarantine list and implement the rule was to allow people time to book into the hotel quarantine system. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

The Government cannot add “the whole world” to the list of countries covered by mandatory hotel quarantine measures, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said.

There had to be a “reasonable bar” for adding countries on to the list, where travel from those locations into Ireland posed “a real risk”, Mr Donnelly said.

The Cabinet agreed on Friday to add 16 countries to the list requiring a mandatory hotel quarantine stay for incoming travellers. These included Belgium, France, Italy and Luxembourg as well as the United States and Canada.

The countries will be added from this Thursday, April 15th, but the inclusion of the US and Canada on the list is subject to available capacity.

Mr Donnelly said the gap between announcing these countries would be covered by the measures and enacting the decision was to allow people time to book into the hotel quarantine system.

Changes to restrictions today

  • People can travel within their county, or 20km from home
  • Households can meet with one other household outdoors, but not in gardens
  • Construction sites reopen for residential and childcare facility projects
  • First- to fourth-year secondary students return to in-class teaching

The State did not want a situation where large numbers of people arrived at ports and airports from designated high-risk countries, who had not booked into mandatory hotel rooms beforehand.

At present there were about 650 hotel beds across the system, which was being increased to 1,100 beds, with “capacity to go significantly beyond that”, Mr Donnelly told RTÉ Radio 1’s Morning Ireland.

The situation had to be managed and allowing people time to book their room was the best way to do this, he said. “We don’t want a situation where people arrive into the country and haven’t booked.”

In the meantime people arriving from those countries still had to have a negative PCR Covid-19 test and quarantine for 14 days in their home, he said.

Mr Donnelly said there was likely going to be a “significant” reduction in travel from the countries on the restricted list as had happened in other jurisdictions.

The Minister said the estimated drop in travel from countries after they were added to the hotel quarantine list was about 80 per cent.

There had been significant concern from officials that the move to expand the list of countries covered by hotel quarantine would put huge pressure on the system.

Limiting numbers

When asked about the possibility of putting a cap on the number of people entering Ireland from these countries, Mr Donnelly said that could be possible and that both Australia and New Zealand had implemented such a cap to match capacity of quarantine hotel rooms available.

The rollout of the Covid-19 vaccination programme globally and in Europe would also allow for easing of international travel restrictions, he said.

“The public health advice is that as the vaccine programme rolls out here and around the world, we’ll be moving to a system where people who have been vaccinated, and can prove they’ve been vaccinated, will have much freer travel,” he said.

On Sunday the Department of Health confirmed Israel, Albania and the small Caribbean island of St Lucia had been removed from the list of countries covered by mandatory hotel quarantine.

The Government is awaiting a decision on Monday from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee on potential restrictions around who should receive the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The advisory body is expected to recommend some limits on the use of the vaccine after the European Medicines Agency warned last week that extremely rare blood clots were a side-effect of the drug.

Several other European Union countries have limited the use of the vaccine to older age groups, as the reported clots have affected younger people.

The potential limiting of who can receive AstraZeneca doses would likely have an impact on the State’s vaccination programme at a time when political figures had pledged the rollout would begin to pick up pace.

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