Last week the Government announced its quarantine proposals for those travelling to this country. The Taoiseach described this plan as a system of mandatory quarantine. I told him at the time that it was nothing of the sort. The proposal the Taoiseach outlined was at best a form of self-isolation relying on the discretion of individuals but it certainly did not amount to a system of mandatory quarantine. It was a half-baked plan that did not go far enough in protecting our people and it certainly falls short of what we need now to assist us in the fight to achieve maximum suppression of this deadly virus.
When I put this to the Taoiseach last week, he was adamant that his plan was well thought out and that the Government was in control of the situation, and he denied that this was a half-measure. I have to tell the Taoiseach that anybody watching the Minister, Deputy Donnelly, on the television last night will be disabused of any notion that the Government has any idea as to what it is doing on quarantine. It is absolutely incredible that at a time when we are at the deadliest stage of this pandemic, the Minister for Health has stated that the Government's quarantine proposal now only requires a person to stay at home and that he or she does not even have to isolate in a single room. The logic of that is that the individual can interact with members of his or her household, who then in turn may venture into the public space, meet with others and run the risk of spreading the virus.
It is very alarming to see that the Government is still at sixes and sevens here, all of which underscores the fact that its quarantine proposal was not thought out at all. Indeed, the Minister, Deputy Donnelly, could not give a date for when the Government's very limited system of hotel quarantine would come into operation.
It is now six weeks since the far more infectious UK variant of the virus was identified here. I put it to the Taoiseach last week that his flawed plan was not alone too limited but that it would take a long time to get up and running. Again, he dismissed my concern saying that: "The measures on travel will not take weeks to implement; they will be implemented very quickly." However, the Minister for Justice has now contradicted him and has made clear that it will, in fact, be weeks before the legislation is introduced.
This is all incredible, not least because the issue of quarantine and international travel is not a new one and we know that the Chief Medical Officer, CMO, repeatedly raised concerns regarding international travel, concerns which were ignored by the Government except for the establishment months ago of an expert group to consider approaches to quarantine, yet here we are. What precisely was this group doing for those months? Where is the urgency and sense of purpose from the Government on this critical issue at this extraordinary time as we do battle with this virus?
We were notified of 101 deaths yesterday, a historic low point for us in this crisis. We are seeing the emergence of new strains of this virus and we have a vaccination programme which is still very much in its infancy. We also know, because the CMO has said it publicly, that we still do not have the testing and tracing capacity to hunt down this virus with the kind of speed that we require. Our ICUs are under enormous pressure and again the virus is taking its toll in our nursing homes.
It is for all of these reasons that we need a mandatory system of quarantine. I ask the Taoiseach to drop the half measures, to opt for this full system of mandatory quarantine and to bring the legislation to that effect to the House with all urgency.