Covid-19: What might mandatory hotel quarantine look like?

Q&A: What we know about planned measures for some incoming travellers

A floor sticker asks guests to adhere to social distancing guidelines at a hotel that has offered to host quarantining for travellers, near Heathrow Airport in Britain. Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images

A floor sticker asks guests to adhere to social distancing guidelines at a hotel that has offered to host quarantining for travellers, near Heathrow Airport in Britain. Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images

 

Next Tuesday the Cabinet will consider a Bill to enforce mandatory quarantine in hotels for certain incoming travellers for the first time as part of the State’s Covid-19 response.

Government officials and Ministers have been holding intensive meetings over recent days to work out exactly how this new regime will work, working through every detail both logistically and also legally.

Sources who spoke to The Irish Times have said a shape is finally beginning to emerge for how the new regime will work, although many details are yet to be agreed or shared. Here is what we know so far:

Who exactly will be required to quarantine in a hotel, and have the hotels been chosen?

A number of hotels have already offered their services to the Government and talks are ongoing to finalise these locations. At present, the plan is that mandatory quarantine at a designated facility will apply to all passengers, regardless of residency, arriving from countries that are the subject of concerns about new Covid-19 variants there. This will include passengers travelling from South Africa and Brazil, and other countries will be added shortly. Passengers without a valid pre-departure PCR test may also be required to go into a 14-day quarantine, although this is understood to be still just a “possibility”. Those passengers arriving without a valid PCR test are already legally obliged to take a Covid-19 PCR test after arrival, at their own expense.

The Cabinet may also consider introducing hotel quarantine for returning Irish holidaymakers, although a Government spokesman stated that “mandatory hotel quarantine is being introduced for travel from specific countries of particular concern, rather than based on the reason for travel”.

If forced to undergo such quarantining, how will I get to the hotel? And what happens when I am there?

Under the draft plans, it is likely that you will have to book a slot to quarantine under a special mandatory quarantine system before you arrive, and those slots could be limited. You will have to make your way from the airport to the State-designated facility through private transport, most likely to be transfers arranged by the hotel. Every traveller will be required by law to stay in their room with no visitors allowed. There will be no mixing with other travellers. Interactions with hotel staff will be kept to a minimum.

What would I eat? Can I have a drink? What if I am a smoker?

The first answer is that the hotel will provide three meals a day to your room in disposable containers. Smoking in the room will likely be prohibited. There could be a limit on the amount of alcohol that a person could order.

Fourteen days is a very long time. What if I am not feeling well, mentally or physically?

Sources have said that plans are being worked on in case a person has a mental health crisis or another medical emergency and that the relevant medical support will be available. The question of what happens if a person leaves the facility early is also one which officials hope to address in the legislation.

Has the Government considered how to deal with a backlog of people trying to get in to the country?

The Government has considered in recent days the so-called “hard cases” that might arise if there is a backlog in the system. In some countries there are three- or four-month wait lists to get home. Officials are looking at who should get priority if a list grows, and what to do about people coming home to care for a dying relative, or nurses or doctors flying in, etc.

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