The Dáil has voted to pass new laws to enforce mandatory hotel quarantine for people coming into Ireland from high-risk countries.
Passengers arriving from 20 countries will have to quarantine for two weeks in a hotel chosen by the State upon entering the country.
The Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the new measures are among the most restrictive regimes in Europe, with the Government able to add more countries at its discretion.
Amendment attempts by opposition parties aimed at expanding the mandatory hotel quarantine to all passengers entering the country for non-essential reasons look set to fail.
Earlier, Mr Donnelly said the list may be expanded to include up to 50 countries, with the current list to be revisited after a meeting later today, guided by advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet).
“Nphet is meeting, in fact right now, and is reviewing the latest international data,” Mr Donnelly said.
“Later today, I’ll be meeting with the deputy chief medical officer to discuss exactly this – should we be designating additional states to the 20, and if that is agreed that’s something that can happen very, very quickly.”
Those who are serving their period of mandatory quarantine have committed no crime
Meanwhile, the Minister for Justice has said that it would be inappropriate to station gardaí at hotels to enforce the mandatory quarantines.
Helen McEntee told the Dáil that gardaí will be involved in policing the system in a limited manner, as travellers are not criminals.
“It’s important to note that those who are serving their period of mandatory quarantine have committed no crime,” Minister McEntee said.
“It would therefore not be appropriate for members of An Garda Síochána to provide a permanent presence at such locations, however, where issues arise where there are public order incidents or attempts to breach the regulations which are in place for public safety, my Department and An Garda Síochána will of course provide assistance.”
Substantial amendments have been made to the Government’s draft Bill on hotel quarantines amid fears it represented a clamp down on civil liberties.
Under the new plans, passengers arriving into the Republic from high-risk countries will have to book a slot in one of the designated quarantine hotels.
The traveller will foot a bill of around €2,000, which will cover accommodation, full board, laundry and transport.
Those who flout mandatory quarantine rules could face fines of up to €4,000 or imprisonment, under the new laws.
Speaking earlier in the week, Minister McEntee said designated hotels could be ready in “three to four weeks” if the necessary legislation passes through the Dáil and the Seanad in the next two weeks.
Yesterday, Minister Donnelly confirmed that around 10,500 people arrived in Ireland through Dublin Airport last week.
Between 1,000 and 3,500 people are still arriving in the country each day, Minister Donnelly told the Dáil.
Speaking this morning, Professor Julien Mercille of the Independent Scientific Advocacy Group said all passengers should be made quarantine to avoid new variants of Covid-19 reseeding the virus in the community.
“The legislation is an improvement over what we’ve had so far, but it’s really not enough. You really need to have a mandatory hotel quarantine for arrivals from all countries, and that’s how you really can prevent new variants for example for entering the country and reseeding the country,” he said.
Approaching the end of January, the Government announced a number of new restrictions on international travel into the Republic amid the pandemic.
However, the measures introducing a mandatory 14-day quarantine in a designated facility for travellers who arrive into Ireland without a negative PCR test for the virus or from selected variant hotspots have yet to be operationalised.