Gravity of mandatory quarantine in facilities delaying legislation

Air passengers and hotels: Government expects law to be ready in ‘weeks’

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly on Wednesday night signed regulations for quarantining in the home. Photograph: Julien Behal Photography

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly on Wednesday night signed regulations for quarantining in the home. Photograph: Julien Behal Photography

 

The gravity of taking steps to detain air passengers in hotel rooms is why new laws for mandatory quarantining in designated facilities is taking time to draw up and bring in, Government sources have indicated.

New rules on mandatory quarantining in a person’s own home came into force yesterday, but laws that would see those who do not produce negative Covid-19 tests or are coming from high-risk countries sent to hotels are still weeks away.

Calls from the Opposition to go further and bring in mandatory hotel restrictions for all incoming air passengers have been resisted by the coalition, which has so far failed to offer a firm timeline for when its measures will be in place.

Plans for tougher travel restrictions were announced last week, when the belief was mandatory quarantining in hotels for people travelling from countries with new variants of the disease such as Brazil and South Africa and passengers without negative PCR tests could be brought in through regulations.

However, attorney general Paul Gallagher later advised that primary legislation would be needed, a process that takes longer.

A Government source last night said it was necessary because what was being planned is “effectively detaining individuals”. They also said that the State was taking on responsibility for the health and welfare of those being detained.

“That’s why this is taking a bit of time,” the source said, adding that the law should be ready in a matter of “weeks not months”.

The source added “rushed legislation is bad legislation” and said there was a need to ensure the Government got the drafting of the law right.

Regulations signed

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly on Wednesday night signed regulations for quarantining in the home.

Under these, passengers who arrive from any destination must quarantine for 14 days at the address specified on their passenger locator form, with penalties for non-compliance including a fine of up to €2,500, six months in prison or both.

“The clear Government and public-health advice is that everybody should avoid non-essential travel completely,” Mr Donnelly said.

He added that the public-health advice was that people subjected to mandatory quarantine should self-isolate within their homes “to assist in protecting those around them”.

A spokesman for Mr Donnelly said gardaí now have the power to call to people’s homes to ensure they are quarantining. However, they cannot enter the property.

There are limited exemptions from home quarantine for essential reasons, but only as strictly necessary. TDs and senators, members of the European Parliament, councillors, gardaí, members of Defence Forces, pilots, maritime crew, someone travelling on humanitarian grounds and someone travelling for legal obligations are among people with exemptions.

The regulations also set out certain reasons why a person may leave their home.

This includes “for unavoidable reasons of an emergency nature”, to get a Covid-19 test, to leave the State, to carry out duties in relation to critical transport infrastructure or communications services. Journalists can travel for work, as can people given a cert from Sport Ireland to attend a sporting event.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin told the Dáil on Wednesday that there were “compelling legal reasons” for not having mandatory quarantine in hotels for all incoming passengers as sought by Sinn Féin.

A spokesman last night offered a further explanation of this comment, saying: “Mandatory quarantine in a place other than a person’s home/residence has to be based on valid public-health concerns.

“Issues of proportionality of the measures and balance with an individual’s rights have to be considered, alongside determination of the level of public-health risk associated with any individual or cohort of travellers.”

He said this included the “epidemiological situation in their place of departure, likelihood of infection and risk of transmission”.

Prior to the signing of the regulations Mr Martin had said there were “legal issues” that arose with home quarantining.

A Government spokesman last night expanded on this, saying the legal issues included “ensuring appropriate enforcement measures”. He added that this was why the regulations “refer to quarantine in the home/place of residence, not within a specific room in the home/place of residence”.