Hotel isolation for 20 states excludes US, UK where cases ‘rampant’

Bill comprises radical action that strikes ‘fair, proportionate balance’, Donnelly tells Dáil

Labour characterised the proposed legislation as ‘weak . . . because it doesn’t change anything’. File photograph: Getty

Labour characterised the proposed legislation as ‘weak . . . because it doesn’t change anything’. File photograph: Getty

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Mandatory hotel quarantining moved a step closer after Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly introduced legislation in the Dáil that he described as a “radical measure” for extraordinary times.

The Health (Amendment) Bill will introduce quarantining at a “designated facility” for travellers from 20 countries with variants of Covid-19 that “present a particularly high risk”.

The complex legislation also introduces compulsory quarantine for passengers who arrive in Ireland without a negative PCR test.

The Opposition has repeatedly called for mandatory quarantining to apply to all arrivals. But the Government said it is unnecessary for countries with low transmission levels.

Mr Donnelly said there are still 1,000-3,500 arrivals into Irish ports and airports daily, “with 10,500 people arriving into Dublin Airport last week”. He acknowledged “serious concerns that the vaccines which have been developed to date may not be as effective against variants” of the virus.

Under mandatory quarantining passengers will be confined to a designated en suite hotel room for 14 days with meals provided. They will have to pre-book and pay for the quarantine.

Some people will consider the Bill too harsh and others will say it is insufficient, he said. But “we believe that this Bill strikes a fair and proportionate balance” between protection of public health and the “limited restriction of individual rights”.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said the Bill is “full of holes” and “absolute madness” that its focus is on Africa and South America when the virus is rampant in the US and UK.

Sinn Féin health spokesman David Cullinane said nine months after the National Public Health Emergency Team recommended discretionary elements of travel should not be allowed they were only now debating a Bill “which still does not solve the problem” because it does not apply to all inward travellers.

Labour leader Alan Kelly said “in normal times this Bill might be radical but when it comes to protecting our own people a year into a pandemic . . . this is anything but radical. It is a weak piece of legislation because it doesn’t change anything.” He warned that the Government will have failed if variants become embedded because of the failure to quarantine all travellers.

Meanwhile Garda sergeants and inspectors said they were surprised to hear Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan TD saying on RTE radio last weekend that gardaí were already carrying out checks at people’s homes to ensure they were quarantining for 14-days after returning from abroad.

Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (Agsi) general secretary Antoinette Cunningham said “I got an amount of calls from sergeants and inspectors saying ‘I haven’t a clue what he’s talking about, I have no idea what he’s talking about’,” she said . A request for comment from Mr Ryan’s office was awaited at the time of publication.

Garda Headquarters told The Irish Times detectives from the Garda National Immigration Bureau have called to a number of houses to check on home quarantine. These “all relate to people who entered via Dublin Airport without the required PCR tests”.