Coronavirus: EU countries left off hotel quarantine list for now after ‘frosty’ meeting

Coveney raises concerns over capacity and legal issues if EU countries on at-risk list

Sources say Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly still supports adding countries of concern regardless of their location and will push for this in the coming days. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/ Collins

Sources say Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly still supports adding countries of concern regardless of their location and will push for this in the coming days. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/ Collins

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People coming into the State from France, Italy, Germany and the US will not, for now, face a mandatory period of hotel quarantine after concerns about the planned extension of the system were raised by the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Attorney General.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly met Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney on Thursday to discuss a recommendation that 43 countries and states be added to the list of “high-risk” areas that necessitate a quarantine period on arrival in Ireland to prevent the possible spread of Covid-19 variants.

Sources said there was significant pushback from Mr Coveney, who raised concerns over capacity in the hotel system for an influx of passengers as well as legal concerns over adding other EU countries to the list. The meeting was described by one source as “frosty”.

Mr Coveney said the State should not move ahead with including countries with a large number of Irish citizens living in them.

While it was agreed that 26 non-EU countries and states would be added to the high-risk schedule, sources said Mr Donnelly still supported adding countries of concern regardless of their location and would push for this in the coming days.

People arriving from the 26 countries – which include Israel, Bahrain, Jordan, Lebanon, Nigeria and Serbia – will have to book a space in the hotel quarantine system if they intend to arrive after 4am on April 6th.

It is understood the Department of Health is preparing for an increase in the number of passengers using the system beyond the 650 places currently available.

In a joint statement on Thursday night, the Departments of Health and Foreign Affairs said the advice on the remaining countries and states, including the EU and US, “will be considered in advance of the next Government meeting”.

Ronan McCrea, professor of constitutional and European law, at University College London, said given the high incidence of Covid-19 in some EU states, extending the mandatory quarantine system to include them need not be contrary to EU law. He said EU rights such as the right to travel were not absolute rights.

“The main thing is that the restrictions have to be necessary, proportionate and non-discriminatory,” he said.

“The commission has expressed unhappiness with absolute travel bans, but in an extreme situation such as the way it is now, you could say it is proportionate.”

Rapid antigen tests

Meanwhile, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said that rapid antigen Covid-19 tests combined with vaccination certificates could offer a way for hospitality businesses and live events to resume safely later this year. His remarks came after the publication of a report that recommends the widespread use of rapid testing in several sectors of society including business and education.

There was further criticism of the vaccine rollout on Thursday with Mr Donnelly accused of “incompetence” in the Dáil over the provision of information about the rollout. Garda representatives and unions representing workers in the education sector criticised the move to offer vaccines based on age rather than profession.

Following reports that almost 600 people did not attend appointments at the Citywest Covid-19 vaccination centre on Wednesday because they had already been inoculated, the HSE said work had been undertaken to ensure this did not reoccur.

“In the next phase of the vaccine rollout, the portal will have an enhanced scheduling system to avoid similar booking conflicts. Furthermore, a technical enhancement to the system will be introduced, enabling people to decline appointments.”

A further 18 deaths due to Covid-19 and 761 new cases of Covid-19 were reported on Thursday as public health officials urged people to be cautious over the Easter weekend.

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