The Irish Times view on mandatory quarantine: a logical extension

The Government seems torn over a problem that it should have anticipated

Defence Forces personnel awaiting flights to escort passengers to their mandatory hotel quarantine at Dublin Airport. Photograph: Colin Keegan/ Collins Dublin

Defence Forces personnel awaiting flights to escort passengers to their mandatory hotel quarantine at Dublin Airport. Photograph: Colin Keegan/ Collins Dublin

 

Even though public health officials were calling for a form of mandatory quarantine for travellers from overseas since last May, the current Government and the previous administration resisted the idea throughout 2020 and only introduced a limited regime last month. Given that it applies to just 33 countries, many of which have no direct connections to Ireland, the system as designed is primarily a deterrent against travel rather than a systematic attempt to keep Covid-19 variants out of the State.

The confusion at the heart of Government policy over quarantine continues to show. On Tuesday it emerged that an official advisory group had recommended the extension of mandatory quarantine to travellers from 43 more countries. At face value, that makes sense; emerging variants do not recognise borders and are increasingly prevalent in territories closely linked to Ireland. But given that the list of potential additions includes the US, France, Germany and more than a dozen other EU states, political and legal considerations are also at play. The Attorney General is understood to have concerns about the State breaching its obligations under EU law to ensure the free movement of people. Others in Government fret about the potential for diplomatic damage. And then there are more practical concerns, such as the amount of time it might take to unwind quarantine arrangements once they have been introduced and the physical capacity to hold all those who might travel from 76 countries. To cap it all, the potential extension has been flagged in public, which could encourage more people to travel here in advance of any further tightening.

These are not trivial concerns, but they are problems the Government could easily have anticipated. Introducing quarantine was an admission, albeit a late one, that it could assist the national effort against the virus. Logically, then, as new variants spread and the risk of importation increases, the Government should extend that quarantine. Yet somehow the administration now finds itself torn, internally divided, in a situation for which it seems to have no plan.

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