Another surge in Covid-19 possible just ahead of decision time on lifting curbs

Mandatory quarantine regime for arrivals from high-risk countries set to begin

A lab technician with a swab at RocDoc’s drive-through testing facility at Dublin Airport for hauliers bound for France. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

A lab technician with a swab at RocDoc’s drive-through testing facility at Dublin Airport for hauliers bound for France. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

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The Government is bracing for another possible surge in Covid-19 infections just a week before the Cabinet is due to decide which restrictions might be lifted in early April after more than three months of Level 5 curbs.

The National Public Health Emergency Team on Sunday reported 769 cases and two deaths. Health officials had been expressing concern about case numbers appearing to be stuck at about 500 to 600 per day for the last few weeks, but Sunday’s total was the highest since February 26th.

Government sources said the figures were not surprising and that further increases could be expected once the full effects of St Patrick’s Day, Mother’s Day and the recent good weather became evident later this week.

The State’s mandatory hotel quarantine regime for passengers arriving from high-risk countries is expected to finally open this week, with a booking system due to go live either on Monday or Tuesday. There will then be a 72-hour period before the contracted hotels open to passengers.

The hotel group Tifco has been awarded the contract to operate quarantine hotels. 

Hundreds of spaces will be available for incoming passengers although the Department of Health does not yet know what the level of demand will be given those entering the system will face a €2,000 bill.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly visited Dublin Airport on Sunday to inspect how the the system would work from aircraft to hotel. He was brought from airside into the airport, where travellers will meet customs officials and border management. He was then escorted to a security bus and brought to one of the hotels to observe the check-in protocols.

The first passengers to use the system could arrive from Thursday onwards. Air carriers will contact anyone who is due to fly in from the date of commencement and inform them that they must book and pay for a space in a quarantine hotel in order to travel.

People who stay in the hotels will be given a set period for exercise or smoking and can bring alcohol in with them, or order wine with their dinner, but will not be able to order alcohol to the hotel.

Security

Private security will be on site and while there will not be a full-time Garda presence, the force will be called if an occupant breaks their quarantine period, which is likely to be 11 days long.

There will be a limited number of “very hard cases” that will allow people to avoid quarantining, but it is understood this will not include allowing people to bypass the system to attend funerals.

Meanwhile, the chief executive of the Irish Medical Organisation, Susan Clyne, said on Sunday that 84,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines were scheduled to be delivered to about 500 general practices this week.

She said more than 250,000 people over the age of 70 should have received a dose by the end of the week. The expectation is that everyone over the age of 70 will be fully immunised by mid-May.

Ms Clyne said she was confident in meeting those targets if supplies materialise as expected. “If that changes, that creates difficulties.”

She said that because of supply line recalibration “we will not have enough vaccines to fully complete the 75-80 age cohort by the end of next week.”

European Union leaders will on Thursday consider whether to impose export bans on vaccines to countries outside the bloc.

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