Rules requiring passengers arriving at Irish air and sea ports to declare where they will quarantine for 14 days can be toughened quickly, and will not require new legislation, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.
One third of Dublin Airport passengers asked after landing to give contact details of where they can be found later, are declining to do so, while a quarter of the numbers landing at Dublin Port are not complying.
In the Dáil, the Taoiseach told Independent west Cork TD Michael Collins that the declarations “are not yet mandatory. They may well need to become mandatory. That is something we are considering”.
Primary legislation, he told Independent TD Marian Harkin is not required. “It is possible for the Minister for Health to make regulations under existing legislation.”
Passengers passing through Ireland to other jurisdictions, including Northern Ireland, are exempt under the rules, and it is highly unlikely that this can be changed, The Irish Times understands.
Everyone who arrives in the State to stay, whether Irish or foreign, is being asked to self-isolate, or quarantine, for 14 days to ensure that anyone with Covid-19 does not infect others here.
The issue will grow as a problem when passenger numbers increase as lockdown rules ease, a number of sources have said, though the Department of Justice said work on changes to the voluntary declaration system “is well under way”.
Figures compiled by the Department of Justice show that between April 28th and May 3rd, some 1,950 people who arrived at Dublin Airport should have completed a “passenger locator form” but only 1,279 did so.
On average, 112 people arrived on flights into Dublin Airport every day and left the airport with the authorities having no way of tracking them to ensure the 14-day quarantine rules are being obeyed.
Passenger numbers at Dublin Port have collapsed because of the Covid-19 crisis with only 12 per cent of those disembarking from ferries classified as passengers rather than crew. hauliers, or other exempt categories.
Staff from the Border Management Unit follow up with 70 per cent of those who have declared where they will quarantine, checking that the rules are being followed by telephone two days after arrival, and a second call 10 days later.
Between April 28th and May 1st, 637 calls were made and 406 were answered; or one in five of the total number asked to give their contact details when they landed. Over 99 per cent who answered said they were abiding by rules.
Responsibility for collecting passenger details and contacting many of them is likely to fall away from border control, which is under the Department of Justice, and be taken up by the Department of Health as passenger numbers rise.
Highlighting the difficulties facing the Government in reopening the State for tourism, the Taoiseach told the Dáil that a 14-day quarantine rule “is not good for tourism.
“People will not come to Ireland if they have to isolate for 14 days. We need to get to the point where we can have air travel start again. I want air travel to start again for business and leisure but that will have to be done safely,” Mr Varadkar said.
Under powers granted to the Garda in April, people who are found to be further than 5km from home without an urgent or essential reason can be arrested. Fines, or prison sentences can follow for breaches.
Arrests are being made only as a last resort, though gardaí say the fact that enforcement is possible has strengthened their hand and brought clarity to regulations.