variant fears | 

EU countries and the US will NOT be included on new extended mandatory quarantine list

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney insisted further consultation with the EU was needed before more countries could be added
Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney objected to the inclusion of countries with large Irish emigrant populations. Photo: Frank McGrath

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney objected to the inclusion of countries with large Irish emigrant populations. Photo: Frank McGrath

Philip Ryan and Fionnán Sheahan

The Government’s hotel quarantine list is to be extended but it will not include additional countries from the EU or the United States.

Despite public health advice, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has insisted passengers from the US and EU countries should not be required to pay for hotel quarantining on arrival in Ireland.

It came after Health Minister Stephen Donnelly proposed adding 43 more countries to the quarantine list, including France, Germany and Italy.

Mr Donnelly is still anxious to have these countries added to the list.

Acting chief medical officer Ronan Glynn also supported the addition of EU countries to the list over increasing fears about new variants and high-levels of Covid-19 transmission in these states.

However, despite the imminent threat to Ireland’s Covid strategy, Mr Coveney insisted that further consultation and discussion with the EU was needed before more countries could be added to the list.

Minister Donnelly added 27 new countries the hotel quarantining list and removed Mauritius.

The countries added are: the Republic of Albania, the Principality of Andorra, Aruba, the Kingdom of Bahrain, Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba, the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, the State of Israel, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the Republic of Kosovo, the State of Kuwait, the Republic of Lebanon, the Republic of San Marino, the Republic of Moldova, the Principality of Monaco, Montenegro, the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Republic of North Macedonia, the Sultanate of Oman, the State of Palestine, the Republic of the Philippines, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the State of Qatar, Saint Lucia, the Republic of Serbia, the Federal Republic of Somalia, the Territory of the Wallis and Futuna Islands.

A Fine Gael minister said Mr Coveney was concerned about the impact it would have on Irish citizens working and studying abroad.

There are also concerns in Fine Gael about forcing senior managers from big US firms to quarantine on arrival.

Mr Coveney was among those who resisted the introduction of hotel quarantine when it was first recommended by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) in May last year.

A senior Department of Health source said: “Minister Coveney seems to think there is a milder variant of Covid within the EU which is clearly not the case.

“Minister Donnelly is adamant that more countries need to be added and there is a real and present threat from new variants and he wants these countries added to the list as soon as possible to protect people,” the source added.

The source said Mr Donnelly has the power to add countries to the quarantine list on the advice of the Expert Travel Group and may do so in the coming days.

At a meeting between Mr Coveney and Mr Donnelly, a source said it was suggested gardaí could do more checks on people quarantining at home who have arrived from EU countries.

Mr Coveney’s decision to stop high-risk countries being added to the list followed Attorney General Paul Gallagher writing to Mr Donnelly to highlight legal concerns with charging EU citizens for hotel quarantining.

Seventeen of the 27 EU countries are on the latest list of high-risk countries recommended for mandatory hotel quarantine of travellers arriving here.

France and Italy are included due to both the rise of variants and a high level of cases, making them the highest-risk EU countries on the list.

The expansion of the quarantine list sparked a row in Government with Mr Coveney objecting to the inclusion of countries with large Irish emigrant populations.

The Expert Travel Advisory Group has identified three criteria for inclusion on the list.

The first rule is “variants of concern”, where the virus has a high rate of transmission, severity and an ability to escape immune response. Austria is already on the quarantine list, with Italy, France and Germany now recommended. Outside of the EU, the US also falls under this category.

The second criteria concerns Covid-19 cases greater than 500 per 100,000. France, Italy and Austria are again included under this criteria. Likewise, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Sweden.

The third category is where infection rates are two-and-a-half times that of Ireland, meaning Bulgaria, Latvia, Luxembourg, Netherlands and Slovenia are included.

The EU countries not on the list are Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, Greece, Finland, Lithuania, Portugal, Romania and Spain.

The UK is also not on the list.

Mr Coveney raised the question of Irish people coming home and questioned if we should be putting them into a hotel and charging them.

“Take France, for example. There are 20,000 Irish people in France. Many come home from the summer – a lot are students,” he said on Highland Radio today.

The Attorney General raised a range of legal issues with the proposal to add more countries and also highlighted potential difficulties in charging Irish citizens travelling from EU states for two weeks’ confinement in hotels. Central to the legal concerns are EU citizens’ right to free movement throughout member states.

There are also believed to be potential issues with quarantining tens of thousands of Irish citizens who live, work or study in the EU.

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