Red Cow Moran Hotel to provide hotel quarantine boosting available rooms by 300
Government battling shortage of rooms after adding 16 countries to list last Thursday
The Red Cow Moran Hotel. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times
The Department of Health has recruited the Red Cow Moran Hotel in west Dublin to provide mandatory hotel quarantine, boosting the number of available rooms by more than 300.
The Government has been battling a shortage of rooms after adding 16 countries to list last Thursday, a move that prompted a surge in demand that led to the temporary suspension of bookings.
There is no lack of hotel capacity in the city given the closure of the hospitality sector since January, although some hoteliers won’t seek the business because of the negative publicity surrounding the chaotic introduction of the scheme.
The Red Cow hotel on the Naas Road, near the M50 interchange, is more than 20km from Dublin Airport. There was no comment from the hotel on Sunday when asked about its MHQ service.
The 16 new countries on the MHQ list include the US, Canada and several European states, among them France and Belgium, fuelling concern about the potential for large numbers of returning Irish citizens to overwhelm the system.
High demand in the first weeks comes despite hopes that MHQ would deter people from travelling to the State, the Government’s aim being to minimise exposure to coronavirus variants.
As the Government seeks to stabilise the system, the Bonnington hotel in north Dublin has put itself forward as a potential MHQ location.
James McGettigan, a director of the Bonnington, which is located in Whitehall near Dublin Airport and was formerly known as the Regency, said the hotel was not in talks with the Government but had raised the matter with officials. “Our hotel is in a position to assist with the MHQ but we are awaiting confirmation,” he said.
“We were speaking [with] the HSE previously with regards to the use of our conference centre being used as a vaccination centre and for hotel quarantining.”
Despite increased numbers of incoming passengers now facing quarantine, one high-level hotel industry figure expressed surprise that the system was overwhelmed so quickly: “It’s very difficult to comprehend how you can have so many hotels in the Dublin area at very low or virtually nil occupancy and we don’t have enough rooms for hotel quarantining.”
But a senior hotelier said many in the sector were reluctant to put themselves forward because of complaints about the system from people confined to hotels for 14 days. “For the hotel sector the mandatory quarantine is problematic and therefore some hotels will not become involved in the process,” he said.
Hotel owners feared “brand damage” from people in quarantine contacting the media with complaints about cramped conditions and mediocre food. “I just think hotels have looked at that and said no thanks,” the hotelier said.
“You have to take somebody out of their room for a 15-minute break. That has to be done properly and securely so it’s not as simple as it sounds.”
There has been no comment on its MHQ service from Tifco, the first hotel group recruited by the Government. David O’Connell of Tifco insisted all queries should be addressed to the Department of Health.
Another hotel industry source, who declined to be named, said was there was no rush to take on HMQ contracts. “The experience worldwide on this, particularly coming from Australia, has probably given hotels the heebie-jeebies.”
Dr Phillip J Smyth, head of the Shannon College of Hotel Management at NUI Galway, said concerns over hotel reputations was a key factor.
Citing conversations with hoteliers but not speaking for the sector, he said short-term gains by way of State contracts were not necessarily of interest.
“They are not queuing up for this and the main worry is legacy issues… It’s more a perception going out there [among international customers] that these hotels were used for quarantine, that Ireland as a destination quarantines people,” he said.
“They accept that it’s necessary but they don’t necessarily want to be associated with it.”
There are concerns in the Garda about the expansion of MHQ. A security source said there was anxiety about potential strain on Garda resources if lax security in an expanded scheme led more people to abscond from quarantine.
“If you increase the facilities without increasing the security then your numbers are going to up and you’re going to have to spend more time chasing them down.”
Gardaí also had health-and-safety concerns over potential exposure to people deemed such a threat to public health that they were compelled to enter mandatory quarantine, the source said.