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Government moves to resolve damaging public row over quarantining

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly

April 06 2021 02:30 AM

Efforts to resolve a very public Government rift over moves to add Germany, France, Italy and USA to the Covid-19 mandatory hotel quarantine list have been complicated by a spike in Covid cases across the EU. 

The proposal, backed by Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, but opposed by Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney, has led to a damaging ill-tempered row.

Officials and politicians are expected to begin contacts today in efforts to defuse the matter.

The discussions are expected to focus on the capacity of hotels, required numbers of staff and the warning by Mr Coveney about the legality of extending the quarantine list to more EU countries.

The political row erupted last week after details emerged of advice from the Government’s travel expert advisory group recommending the addition of the four countries to the list.

After public strong reservations were expressed by Mr Coveney, the plans to add those countries to the list were shelved.

But 26 other countries were included in the extended emergency quarantine list.

In practice it means that from early today people arriving in Ireland from any of these countries and territories must pre-book accommodation for 12 nights mandatory hotel quarantine on arrival and pay about €1,800 for the stay.

People who take a Covid test which proves negative can have their stay reduced to nine days.

There is no scheduled meeting of the Cabinet this week due to the Easter break and this may give both sides time for more considered discussions.

Ideally a new proposal could be brought to Cabinet next week and discussion by ministers is deemed necessary after the public row.

The outcome may mean stricter rules for people landing in Ireland from USA, France, Germany and Italy – but it is not clear whether this would include a full-blown hotel quarantine term.

The move is advocated by health experts and aimed at minimising the risk of new Covid variants entering Ireland.

A more comprehensive quarantine regime has long been advocated by opposition politicians who say that it was first recommended by health experts in May 2020 but only finally implemented last month.

Objections to the latest proposed additions to the list turn on potential EU law limitations, hardship for Irish people travelling home from these countries and the practical problems which arise for vastly increased numbers in quarantine.

One possibility being mentioned is that officials consider enhanced checks for people on home quarantine instead of mandatory hotel quarantine.

However it is not clear who would carry out these checks and how they would be done.

Contacts are expected to take place between officials from the Foreign Affairs Department and the Health Department on Wednesday and Thursday of this week.

Discussions between Ministers Donnelly and Coveney would follow in the ensuing days.

Critics of the extended quarantine argue that both New Zealand and Australia had to put a ceiling on the numbers allowed into mandatory hotel quarantine. They claim that the system in Ireland may not have sufficient capacity.

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