Hotel quarantine helped reduce import of virus variants, Minister says

Dáil debates extension until July 31st of system which has housed 4,400 passengers

Of those who entered hotel quarantine, 173 were found to have been infected with Covid-19, the Dáil heard. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

The number of cases of variants of Covid-19 has fallen since the introduction of mandatory hotel quarantine two months ago, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has told the Dáil.

He said the system “has worked and is working. It has helped contain the virus and has gone a very long way to obstructing variants of concern getting into the wider community.”

Pointing to the protections the system had offered he stressed however that Ireland “is at a critical stage of the vaccine programme” and “it’s essential that this is not undermined at this point”.

Ireland has the most restrictive hotel quarantine system “by a country mile”. the Minister has acknowledged.


Mr Donnelly was speaking during a debate to extend the mandatory hotel quarantine system which is due to expire on June 7th until July 31st.

He told the Dáil that up to two days ago a total of 4,400 people had entered the system of 14 days isolation in a hotel room and 173 of those were found to have been infected with Covid-19 including “163 residents, nine staff and once unaccompanied minor”.

Outlining details of the infection numbers found he said that “59 variants of concern cases have been detected including 47 cases of B117 variant, first identified in the UK; 12 cases of B1.351 variant first identified in South Africa or the P1 variant identified in Brazil”.

He also said there have been 1,518 appeals against quarantine of which 166 or 11 per cent were granted and 1,352 refused.

Under the legislation, provision is made to extend system for up to three months but the Minister said he was seeking to extend if for a further seven weeks. Any further extensions “would be informed by the public health situation in July”. It could be extended again for up to a further three months before this latest expiration date of July 31st.

Sinn Féin health spokesman David Cullinane said the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) make the case in April last year for mandatory hotel quarantine. It proved helpful to contain the virus and prevent new strains coming into the State.

The Waterford TD said the introduction of the system “is a vindication of Nphet’s position and those of us in opposition who called for this”.

Through the hotel quarantine system “a number of cases of new variants have been captured” and “that’s precisely why it was brought in to protect against”, he said.

Labour’s Ged Nash said that the approach to this “last resort” system had to be recalibrated with the roll out of the digital green certificate system allowing travel with the EU and some designated other countries for those who are fully vaccinated.

Social Democrats joint leader Róisín Shortall said it was very regrettable that the Government did not take Nphet’s advice to introduce travel controls last year.

“A lesson wasn’t learned and with the very serious threat of the UK variant and we end up in a situation and in the first two months of this year where more people died than in the entirety of last year.”

Independent TD Matt Shanahan said the system had been successful but it had also damaged connectivity and economic development.

He said that people including Irish persons travelling from the United Arab Emirates have taken a vaccine approved by the WHO but not by the European Medicines Agency, which forces them into hotel quarantine and this should change.

Mr Shanahan was among a number of TDs who called for the Government to recognise and introduce the use of antigen testing.

Fianna Fáil Longford TD Joe Flaherty Longford appealed to the Government to act on the call by the Irish Airline Pilots' Association for an end to the delay on the re-introduction of international travel , the introduction of rapid antigen testing for airline passengers; and for travel harmonisation between Ireland and the UK.

A vote on whether to extend mandatory hotel quarantine until July 31st will take place on Wednesday, June 2nd.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times