Mandatory hotel quarantine may be extended to more EU countries

Advisory group recommends adding a further 43 countries to the high-risk list

Airline passengers arrive at  the Crowne Plaza Dublin Airport in Santry to begin their period of quarantine.  Photograph: Donall Farmer/ Getty

Airline passengers arrive at the Crowne Plaza Dublin Airport in Santry to begin their period of quarantine. Photograph: Donall Farmer/ Getty

 

Mandatory hotel quarantine requirements may be extended to travellers coming from a number of European countries, including France, Germany and Italy, as well as the US.

In total, a further 43 countries should be added to the high-risk country list subject to the quarantine measures, under recommendations from the Travel Expert Advisory Group.

The list could cause political and legal issues as it includes 17 EU countries, complicating freedom of movement within the bloc, and the Isle of Man, which is part of the Common Travel Area covering Ireland and the UK.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly will meet Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney in the coming days to discuss the additional countries, ahead of a formal decision.

A decision on the list is not expected to be for a number of days, sources said.

There are already 33 countries on the so-called “category two” list from which travellers must quarantine for 12 nights on entry into the country.

Business group Ibec noted with “great concern” the proposed extension of the mandatory quarantine measures to cover more countries, which it said could harm Ireland’s reputation as an open economy.

The group urged the Government “to fully consider all of the economic, business, social and reputational implications of such a decision”.

The possibility of more than doubling the number of countries covered by hotel quarantine measures raises diplomatic and logistical complications, as it tightens travel restrictions with major EU countries where many Irish citizens are living, working, studying and transiting through.

The inclusion of France, Germany and the Netherlands could lead to the international Irish travellers transiting through major European airports such as Charles De Gaulle in Paris, Frankfurt airport and Schiphol in Amsterdam.

Poland is also on the list which could affect a large number of Polish travellers returning to Ireland.

Expanding the list to 76 countries and including major EU countries could put significant pressure on the capacity of the hotel quarantine system to cope given the numbers that could return in the summer.

The first four hotels being used for mandatory quarantine are the Crowne Plaza Dublin Airport in Santry, the Holiday Inn Express Dublin Airport, Clontarf Castle Hotel and the Hard Rock Hotel in Dublin city centre. The hotels are run by Tifco, the country’s second-largest hotel operator. The cost of the quarantine is €1,875 per person.

There are about 20,000 Irish citizens living in France and 16,000 in Germany so the return of even a proportion of these people could strain the capacity of quarantine hotels.

The introduction of strengthened travel restrictions on major EU countries could pose diplomatic issues for the Government, though one source said the German government’s decision to tighten border controls this week could make further restrictions easier.

In Italy, incoming travellers from elsewhere in the EU will now be required to quarantine for five days, as the country also tightens restrictions.

Currently, Austria is the only country in the European Union or Europe on the list of 33 countries.

In total, 162 people have booked rooms in the mandatory hotel quarantine system to date, according to the Department of Health.

Eighty-seven people coming into the State this month have booked into the quarantine system, with the first arrivals entering the facilities last Friday.

A further 67 people due to arrive into the country in April have booked quarantine rooms, with eight bookings made so far for May.

Three travellers staying in hotel quarantine have tested positive for Covid-19 and have been moved to a “Covid wing” within the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

The positive cases were detected as part of the first tests of visitors who arrived into the mandatory quarantine facility, a HSE source confirmed.