Mandatory hotel quarantine: extra civil servants urgently sought for up to a year

Call for applications for secondments to team due to high workload associated with scheme

People undergoing mandatory hotel quarantine as part of Ireland’s Covid-19 response  arriving at  the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Santry. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

People undergoing mandatory hotel quarantine as part of Ireland’s Covid-19 response arriving at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Santry. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

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The Department of Health is “urgently” seeking extra staff to work on a new dedicated mandatory hotel quarantine (MHQ) team for up to a year, according to internal civil service documents seen by The Irish Times.

This is despite the system being planned for an initial period of three months, due to expire in early June.

A call for applications of interest for secondment to the team, circulated to Government bodies, also shows that the workload associated with the scheme led to urgent calls for additional staff to work on key areas less than two weeks after it went live.

In a note circulated to civil servants on April 7th, less than two weeks after the first people checked into the hotels, the Department of Health wrote that “the workload [associated with MHQ] has moved far beyond what is possible to continue to support within a small team”.

“Significant additional resources are urgently needed, particularly of experienced civil servants in policy, legal, financial procurement and legislative areas. Experience in operational management would also be extremely valuable.”

Those applying were told that at the outset, the department had “an urgent need for additional staff” on a temporary basis for a minimum of three months “which is likely to be extended by six to nine months”.

Extended

Asked why the positions might need to be filled for up to a year, a spokeswoman for the department said that the enabling legislation is valid for three months, until early June, after which it can be extended by a resolution of both houses of the Oireachtas.

“Any staff assignments would ideally need to be capable of continuation in the event of the duration of the mandatory quarantine system being extended for a further period.”

The Opposition called for clarity on how long the system is going to be in place, and criticised the Government for not having more preparatory work done on the programme.

“The Government ignored calls for the implementation of travel checks and mandatory hotel quarantine for the best part of 10 months. They were dragged kicking and screaming into accepting the clear public health advice. This has resulted in a rushed effort and a lack of preparedness,” said Sinn Féin health spokesman David Cullinane.

He said it is “no surprise” that there is a shortfall in capacity and resources, and called on the Government to “level with the public”.

“I don’t want to see mandatory quarantine in place for a second longer then is necessary but we need honesty from the Minister in relation to capacity and how long it is anticipated it will be in place.”

The advertisement also reveals that a new specialist division is being established under a high-ranking official to handle MHQ within the department, due to the scale of work involved in the project.

Initially, according to the notice, the department was being supported “by staff from a range of organisations who have provided a lot of assistance to get the system off the ground and to manage it to date”.

However, now the department “is establishing a new division headed up by an Assistant Secretary on a temporary basis”.

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