Those flouting hotel quarantine rules could face fines of up to €4,000

Exiting quarantine after 10 days may be permitted with a negative Covid test

The proposed Bill will include harsh penalties including imprisonment for anyone who tries to avoid compulsory detainment.

The proposed Bill will include harsh penalties including imprisonment for anyone who tries to avoid compulsory detainment.

 

People who flout proposed new mandatory hotel quarantine rules could be liable for fines of up to €4,000.

Cabinet Ministers met virtually late on Wednesday evening and approved the Bill to introduce mandatory quarantine for passengers arriving in the State from 20 countries with a high incidence of new variants of Covid-19.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnnelly brought the text of the draft Health Amendment Bill to Cabinet on Tuesday but discussions were adjourned for a day to address a number of issues.

The incorporeal meeting was adjourned several times over the course of Wednesday to allow drafting of changes to the complex legislation.

Substantial amendments have now been made to the Government’s draft Bill to assuage concerns it would clamp down too much on people’s civil liberties.

Ministers met to consider the changes that had been made to the draft Bill by Mr Donnelly and Attorney General Paul Gallagher.

The proposed Bill will include harsh penalties including imprisonment for anyone who tries to avoid compulsory detainment.

It includes proposed new offences including leaving the hotel without permission, taking risks with health or lives, or refusing to take Covid-19 PCR tests. It is understood those found guilty of those offences will face a €4,000 fine or one month’s imprisonment.

It is also understood the Bill may include provisions to increase the fixed penalty for travelling to an airport for non-essential reasons to €2,000 from €500.

It will also make provisions that will allow people to leave their rooms for specified purposes - such as a medical emergency - during the 14-day quarantine period. However, there will be no exemptions from the quarantine requirement, although there will be a facility that will allow incoming passengers an appeals mechanism to allow them prove they travelled for humanitarian purposes.

The child protection agency, Tusla, will take responsibility for any unaccompanied minor who enters the country. They will be allowed quarantine at their place or residence, or at a Tusla facility, if they are unaccompanied and seeking international protection.

The proposed legislation will have a sunset clause of three months, unless the Oireachtas agrees to extend its operability.

Among other changes to the proposed Bill are a provision that will allow people arriving into Ireland from 20 countries with high levels of new variants of Covid-19 to exit mandatory quarantine in hotels after 10 days rather than 14, if they have a negative Covid test taken on that day.

There was concern expressed at Cabinet on Tuesday that certain people arriving into Ireland seeking asylum, or who were unaccompanied minors, or who are Irish citizens returning for a funeral of a close relative, would have their rights adversely affected.

There was also a discussion at Cabinet on Tuesday about the circumstances in which people could leave their hotel rooms, with at least one Minister expressing concern that confining them to their rooms in all circumstances would be too draconian a measure, and would leave the Bill open to legal challenge.

The Irish Times also understands that the revised Bill makes no reference to the level of charges for hotel quarantine - a figure of €2,000 was mooted earlier this week - with that issue being dealt with either at committee stage, or by regulation.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties raised serious concerns about the proposed legislation saying it “constituted a significant interference with the right to liberty and imposes a high duty of care on the State over travellers it proposes to detain.”

The incorporeal Cabinet meeting on Wednesday evening was originally scheduled to take place on Tuesday afternoon but was delayed until Tuesday night, and then Wednesday morning before finally beginning later on Wednesday.

Government sources say that the delay has essentially put paid to any hope the Bill could be introduced in the Dáil on Thursday. It is now likely to be introduced in the Dáíl next week and its final passage may be delayed beyond early March.