People arriving to Ireland who have received vaccines not approved by the European Medical Agency (EMA) must continue to enter mandatory hotel quarantine, the Dáil has been told.
More than 8,000 people have entered the mandatory hotel quarantine system since it was introduced in March and 376 of them tested positive for Covid-19, according to Minister of State for Health Anne Rabbitte.
Ms Rabbitte also said 14 per cent of appeals against quarantine were granted.
During a debate to extend the mandatory hotel quarantine system until October 31st, the Minister said 2,839 of the 8,395 people in the system appealed against the quarantine and 417 were granted.
“Without mandatory hotel quarantine there is a risk that new variants could be imported and would not be identified,” said Ms Rabbitte. She said the quarantine system had created space for the progress of the vaccination programme and 56 per cent of the eligible population had been fully vaccinated and 71 per cent had received a first dose.
Ms Rabbitte told the Dáil that the only vaccines for which individuals arriving in Ireland will not have to go through the hotel quarantine system are those approved for use in the EU by the EMA.
A number of TDs highlighted the difficulties for people, particularly Irish people returning home, who have received jabs including the Sinovac or Sinopharm vaccines, as well as the AstraZeneca vaccine developed in India.
Sinn Féin transport spokesman Darren O'Rourke and Independent TDs Michael Fitzmaurice and Mattie McGrath highlighted cases of Irish citizens coming home for urgent family reasons from places including Abu Dhabi, where they received vaccinations not approved by the EMA.
Mr Fitzmaurice said some people “want to come home. This is their country and they’re paying out large sums of money to basically quarantine.”
Mr McGrath said he called for mandatory hotel quarantine at the start. “I felt we should have it,” he said.
He said many people could not believe it when there were so many restrictions “from worship, matches, games, work, school and play of any kind but then we have open borders” and it was “illogical, and too little, too late. If it was done properly when it was introduced first we might be in a different place.”
Ms Rabbitte said: “Covid-19 vaccines can only be approved and used if they comply with all the requirements of quality, safety and efficiency set out in EU pharmaceutical legislation.”
No vaccine will be used until market authorisation by the EMA is obtained, said the Minister, pointing out that the delivery of vaccines to Ireland is “predicated on market authorisation being obtained by the Commission”, through the EMA.
Ms Rabbitte said 61 countries are “designated on a risk assessment on Covid incidence rates and variants of concern” but a review is under way of “designated states” because of the progress of the vaccination programme.
From December 2020 to May 15th this year “97 travel-related outbreaks, and 327 cases were recorded, which were linked to 30 countries”.
There were 39 further travel-related outbreaks linked to 132 cases reported by public health departments in June 2021.
People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy described the system as "racist" when it applied predominantly to non-European countries while there is free access for "plague island", which was England, Scotland and Wales.
Independent TD Cathal Berry said the system introduced at the height of the third wave assisted in reducing its intensity and duration and delayed the onset of the fourth wave by allowing the development of the vaccine programme.
Mr Berry said the system also prevented the further spread of the virus through the detection of more than 350 cases in passengers.
He highlighted the “big imperfections” of the Common Travel Area with Britain and the open Border with the North, but he said herd immunity would be achieved within the next couple of months.