Quarantine hotels to rely on private security firms for rules enforcement

Gardaí will not escort passengers from airport or stay on site, Garda management says

 Terminal 2 at Dublin Airport: The hotel isolation measures will apply to 33 countries on the “category 2” list from where the risk of transmission of Covid-19 or mutations of the disease is high. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

Terminal 2 at Dublin Airport: The hotel isolation measures will apply to 33 countries on the “category 2” list from where the risk of transmission of Covid-19 or mutations of the disease is high. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

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Gardaí will be called to new State-designated mandatory quarantine hotels if those staying do not comply with the rules or leave the facility before they are allowed to.

Senior Garda management have informed the Government that the force should not be on site at the facilities and should not have a role in escorting passengers from planes and ports to the hotels.

Instead gardaí will be called where there are breaches of the legislation and the Government will likely have to rely on private security firms to enforce the new rules.

Legislation to bring in the new regime has now passed through the Oireachtas and will go to the President for consideration and signing. This could happen either at the end of this week or the beginning of next week. The first arrivals into the hotels are unlikely until at least the middle of the month, however, as the Government is still trying to work through final operational hurdles.

The experience of Australia and New Zealand, which have both operated strict mandatory hotel quarantine systems since the start of the pandemic a year ago, is being closely assessed, according to sources with knowledge of plans for the State’s new hotel quarantine system.

The most complicated aspects of the system centre around the private security staff to be used by the hotels to police the quarantine, arrangements around physical exercise and food delivery to rooms, and the frequency of testing for hotel and other staff managing the system of quarantine.

Australian model

Australia’s hotel quarantine programme was tightened after the country’s second wave last year was linked to a single family who returned to the country and quarantined in a hotel.

The country banned outdoor exercise by quarantined guests, limited movement to hotel rooms only and forced some staff to wear personal protective equipment while on shift in hotels.

In New Zealand, outdoor exercise is permitted in designated areas but this is managed with strict controls and the only interactions allowed by guests are with people in their bubbles.

The country permits a maximum of four to a room such as in the case of two adults and two children with a maximum of eight in a bubble across two rooms. If a similar system is adopted here, hotels will have to have a sufficient number of adjoining rooms to accommodate families and groups.

One Irish hotel industry source expects smoking to be banned for the duration of the 14-day quarantine, similar to the quarantine system in operation in Australia’s New South Wales.

Meal times may have to be staggered to avoid guests opening doors on a corridor at the same time to collect food dropped by staff, and guests may have to wait some time for staff to move on.

Country list

The hotel isolation measures will apply to 33 countries currently on the “category 2” list from where the risk of transmission of Covid-19 or mutations of the disease is high.

The newly passed legislation also increases fixed-notice penalties for non-essential travel from €500 to €2,000. Penalties for breaches of mandatory hotel quarantining include fines of up to €4,000 and/or a one-month prison sentence for a first offence.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly told the Seanad on Monday that “the measures provided for in the Bill will be applicable to all travellers from a designated state and a person’s nationality has no bearing on the matter”. He said the measures were proportionate.

The Seanad passed the Health (Amendment ) Bill but none of the Opposition’s amendments aimed at zero or maximum Covid suppression were accepted, including those to extend the measures to travellers entering the State from all countries.

Mr Donnelly said that lockdown restrictions would remain in place beyond September with schools closed and the 5km travel limit reduced to 2km if the State pursued a zero strategy.

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