It has been two weeks since the Government extended Level 5 Covid-19 restrictions until March 5th and announced plans for a crackdown on travel including mandatory quarantining in the home and hotels.
Some of the plans have been implemented but it’s far from clear when perhaps the most serious new measure – hotel quarantining – will be brought in and what form it will take.
So what measures are already in place?
An increased fine of €500 for people caught leaving the State for non-essential reasons – such as holidays – has been introduced. It has also been made an offence for people whose place of residence is outside the State, including Northern Ireland, to travel here without a reasonable excuse.
People now face a €100 fine if they cannot offer a valid reason to a garda for their travel. It’s unclear how many checkpoints have been mounted near the Border with the North as the gardaí do not offer details on locations.
What about quarantining?
The Government has been talking about two kinds of quarantining: in the home, and in designated facilities likely to be hotels. The Opposition has been demanding 14 days of hotel quarantine for all international passengers, along the lines of regimes in Australia and New Zealand. The Government has so far resisted this.
What does home quarantining involve?
People arriving into the State have been required to quarantine at home since last Thursday, with exemptions for some key workers. Passengers must quarantine at the address they provide on their passenger locator form for 14 days. Gardaí have been tasked with checking up on people who are supposed to be staying at home. Those arrivals from countries deemed to be low risk have the option of shortening the period if they get a negative Covid-19 PCR test on or after five days. People coming from higher-risk countries – such as South Africa and Brazil, where there are new variants of the virus – must quarantine for the full 14 days. The penalties for non-compliance are a fine of up to €2,500 and/or six months in prison. It remains the case that passengers arriving into Ireland must have a negative Covid-19 test and it is an offence not to have this.
What's the situation with hotels?
Primary legislation is needed to bring about a regime where incoming travelers from high-risk countries – or people who arrive without a negative PCR test – are to find themselves in a locked hotel room for two weeks at their own cost. The indications from Government are that legislation is needed given the seriousness of restricting a person's freedom. The timeline for introducing it is said to be weeks, not months.
What are the unanswered questions about hotel quarantining?
In recent days The Irish Times has posed a series of questions to the Department of Health on the issue. They have been met with a blanket response that it is not yet possible to confirm the details of legislation that is still being drafted with the advice of the Attorney General. It is expected that private security will be used as part of the enforcement of the measure, but the department has not said whether any companies have been contacted about providing it and what role, if any, the Garda will play. Citywest and the adjoining Golf Hotel have been mentioned as possible locations for quarantining but the department has not said if it and other hotels have been contacted about providing facilities. The department has not said if UK citizens will be required to quarantine in hotels or even if the measure will apply to Irish people who are returning from high-risk countries or without a negative PCR test.
A spokesman for Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said work was progressing on the operational side of any such system that may come into being if legislation is passed by the Oireachtas. "The exact details of the operation are still to be agreed and it is not the policy to comment on individual aspects of operations that are not finalised."