Mandatory hotel quarantine: exemption for fully vaccinated comes into force

Exemption applies to people vaccinated with Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca or Janssen

Passengers arrive from Dublin Airport to go to their quarantine hotel. Photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

Passengers arrive from Dublin Airport to go to their quarantine hotel. Photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

 

Fully vaccinated people are now exempt from the State’s mandatory hotel quarantine system after new rules came into force today.

In a series of tweets posted on Saturday evening, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said regulations providing for the exemption had been signed and the exemption would be come into force immediately.

As a result, anyone arriving from a designated state with proof of full vaccination with an approved vaccine from Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca or Janssen, coupled with a negative PCR test, will now not need to enter hotel quarantine and can quarantine at home instead.

An additional exemption allows families with a newborn baby who are travelling home from a designated state to be exempted from mandatory hotel quarantine on their return, if they have a negative PCR test.

The move to exempt fully vaccinated people and permit them to quarantine at home follows sustained criticism of the Irish mandatory hotel quarantine system by the European Commission, embassies of EU countries, and the airline and travel industry.

Fine Gael Ministers in particular are understood to have been pushing to allow fully vaccinated people to be exempt from mandatory hotel quarantine.

Officials in the Department of Health are understood to have resisted and raised questions around how such passengers would prove they have been vaccinated, at a time when the EU green pass or travel pass system is still under consideration.

There is no universally recognised certificate for vaccination, either at a European Union level or a global level although Government sources have indicated locally granted certificates from other jurisdictions will be accepted.

Because they are only accepted for EMA-approved vaccines, it mean those in receipt of Russia’s Sputnik vaccine or the Chinese Covid-19 vaccine still have to quarantine in a hotel.

The Mandatory Hotel Quarantine system has been mired in controversy almost since it came in being last month. It has prompted people forced to stay in the hotels to take cases to the High Court challenging the legality of the measure.

Five EU countries - Austria, Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy and France are on the “red list - and their presence on the list has provoked a furious reaction from ambassadors and demands for clarification of how countries are chosen.

Last week the State’s quarantine regime for arrivals – one of the strictest in the world – was widened to include 16 extra countries, including the US, and five EU countries; Austria, Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy and France, provoking a furious reaction from ambassadors and demands for clarification of how countries are chosen.

Late last week the European Commission gave Ireland 10 days to respond to a letter outlining “concerns” about mandatory hotel quarantine, which may be excessive and discriminatory, the EU executive said.

The Commission has queried whether the same results could be achieved through less severe measures and has asked for clarification on how countries are selected for the red list, as the five are not the areas with the highest infection rates in the EU.

Ireland is the seventh EU country to fall foul of the Commission over Covid-19 travel restrictions, after a string of countries tightened controls and instituted border checks in fear over the prevalence of vaccine-resistant new variants.

Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hungary and Sweden also received letters from the Commission earlier this year due to travel restrictions, including checks imposed by Germany on its land border with the Czech Republic due to soaring infections there, and an outright ban on casual travel by Belgium.

Extra capacity has also been added to the hotel rooms available after the online booking system for a stay in a mandatory quarantine hotel was suspended earlier in the week due to a higher than expected number of passengers arriving without bookings.

A total of 98 passengers who did not have required bookings for quarantine hotels or who failed to produced evidence of a negative Covid-19 test on arrival, and thus were subsequently taken to hotel quarantine, arrived here between April 8th and April 13th.

From today, capacity at the quarantine hotels has risen by more than 300 to 959 rooms. From next Friday, April 23rd, that will increase to 1,189 rooms, and by Monday April 26th, to 1,607 rooms.

Mr Donnelly has described mandatory hotel quarantine as a very important public health measure and which gives the State the “strongest border biosecurity measures in Europe.”

To date 18 people in mandatory hotel quarantine have tested positive for Covid-19, of which four involve one of the variants of concern, the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) briefing heard on Thursday.

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