More than a third of incoming travellers appealed mandatory quarantine, Minister says

Some 59 of 178 Covid-19 cases detected in travellers linked to variants of concern

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly says mandatory hotel quarantine `has worked and is working’. File photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly says mandatory hotel quarantine `has worked and is working’. File photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

More than a third of the 4,616 people who entered mandatory hotel quarantine appealed against their detention, but just 11 per cent were successful, according to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly.

A total of 1,563 people appealed against the mandatory stay of 14 days but only 178 appeals, or 11 per cent of the total, were granted. The remaining 1,388 were refused, he said.

The Minister also said 178 of the arriving passengers in quarantine in Ireland later tested positive for Covid-19 and the results of further tests are awaited.

The Minister told the Seanad that 59 cases detected in travellers in mandatory hotel quarantine are linked with variants of concern.

Mr Donnelly was speaking in the Seanad as he introduced a debate on extending the mandatory quarantine system, which commenced in March, until July 30th.

The Dáil last week approved the extension of mandatory quarantining in hotels for arriving passengers to Ireland from certain countries with high rates of Covid-19 and with variants of concern.

The infections detected in 47 of the quarantine cases were the UK variant, while 12 were of the variant first identified in South Africa or Brazil.

Mr Donnelly insisted that mandatory hotel quarantine “has worked and is working,” and he said the figures outlined did not take account of the cases “which have been avoided in the community as a result of mandatory hotel quarantine”.

He acknowledged that in the case of lower-risk passengers, home quarantine could be effective.

But he pointed out that there were significant practical and legal challenges in monitoring and enforcing such a system and it was particularly difficult because up to 40 per cent of those infected with Covid-19 were asymptomatic.

“This creates the risk that new variants could be imported and would not be identified in the absence of mandatory hotel quarantine.”

New variants

The Minister added that many countries had been unable to adequately monitor new variants and this increased the risk of circulation of the virus in Ireland, he said.

“While we have recently seen encouraging research, which indicates that the vaccines we are using are effective against emerging variants, we need to remain vigilant,” the Minister said.

But “in light of the risk associated with variants of concern, it is essential that cases arriving in Ireland are detected and traced as effectively as possible,” Mr Donnelly added.

“Without mandatory hotel quarantine, it’s likely that certain persons infected with new variants may arrive and not subsequently present for testing, due to a lack of symptoms.”

He stressed that extension of the scheme “does not preclude adaptation of the operation of mandatory hotel quarantine in response to the introduction of the digital green certificate”.

“The legislation permits the designation and revocation of states and the creation of further categories of exempted traveller,” he said.

Belgium, France, Luxembourg and the United States have now been removed from the mandatory hotel requirement.

Fine Gael Senator Martin Conway said the quarantining system may have come from opposition pressure but it was a “prudent step” and it had prevented thousands of infections, and deaths as well.

Labour Seanad leader Ivana Bacik said the system was clearly a necessary measure because of the deaths of 4,900 people in Ireland from the virus.

Sinn Féin Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile, whose party called for the introduction of mandatory hotel quarantining, said it had to be constantly evaluated because it involved such draconian powers.