That Dáil Éireann resolves that the relevant period, within the meaning of section 9 of the Health (Amendment) Act 2021 (No. 1 of 2021), shall stand extended for the period beginning on the 8th day of June, 2021 and ending on the 31st day of July, 2021.
This motion seeks agreement to the continuation in force of the Health (Amendment) Act 2021 up to 31 July 2021. I remind the House that this Act provides for the mandatory quarantine in designated facilities of persons coming into the State from certain areas. Commonly referred to as mandatory hotel quarantine, it has been operational since 26 March 2021. It has been an important part of the public health measures to combat the transmission of Covid-19 and, in particular, variants of concern.
The Act requires travellers who, in the 14 days prior to their arrival in Ireland, have been in, or transited through, one or more designated states to undergo 14-day mandatory quarantine in a designated facility. This requirement is subject to a number of exemptions and can be reduced if a not-detected Covid test result is obtained from day ten onwards. The Act also requires those travellers without a negative PCR test result from a test taken no more than 72 hours before arrival to enter mandatory hotel quarantine until they return a negative test. Typically, they are facilitated with those tests very quickly.
My Department has led on the implementation of mandatory hotel quarantine, supported by several Departments, including those responsible for defence, foreign affairs, transport, justice, and children, equality, disability, integration and youth, in addition to the Defence Forces, An Garda Síochána, the Border Management Unit, the Garda National Immigration Bureau, the Revenue Commissioners, Customs and Excise and the HSE.
It is worth giving thanks on my behalf, on behalf of the Government and - I hope colleagues would agree - on behalf of the Oireachtas.
As we have seen in the pandemic, most of the things we are doing require broad co-operation involving multiple Departments and State agencies, as well as private sector partners, voluntary sector partners and volunteers. Mandatory hotel quarantine has been no different. It has required a broad group of people to come and work together. I wish to thank everyone for everything they have done.
We have a single service provider, which is the Tifco Hotel Group. The group is providing full-board accommodation services to guests in facilities designated exclusively for the purpose of quarantine, as well as ground transportation, security services and health and well-being services for guests within the facilities.
The Defence Forces are fulfilling the important role of state liaison officer. The officer has a presence at each port of entry to the State, as well as an on-site presence at every designated hotel on a 24-7 basis to liaise with the service providers to ensure travellers are safe, secure and comfortable.
The provisions of the Act allow for travellers to request a review of decisions relating to their quarantine. However, this can only be undertaken once quarantine has started and on limited grounds. Public health obviously will remain a paramount consideration. The Department of Justice is working closely with my Department on the review process and has put in place a process which provides a seven-day-a-week service. Decisions must be returned within 24 hours of receipt of the request for review. Requests for review are based on the specific grounds established in law. Appeals officers have been selected from a group of barristers, who have also provided a service in respect of the International Protection Appeals Tribunal.
Medical services are available on-site on a 24-7 basis. It is possible for a person to leave quarantine in the case of medical emergency and to attend urgent medical appointments. Special arrangements have been made to allow those seeking international protection or unaccompanied minors to undertake their quarantine in alternative appropriate circumstances.
A procedure is in place within the missions of the Department of Foreign Affairs for deferrals of prepayment for Irish citizens and residents abroad in hardship circumstances. Irish citizens and residents who wish to make an application for deferral of fees relating to mandatory hotel quarantine should contact their local Irish embassy or consulate wherever they are. A procedure is also in place for Erasmus students. They should contact the Erasmus office in their third level institution. That office will then make the booking on behalf of the student. Their standard costs associated with mandatory hotel quarantine will be covered by the Department of Higher and Further Education, Innovation and Science. Other students travelling from or transiting through designated states are not covered by this arrangement and need to pre-book and pay as per normal.
Colleagues will recall from our debate in March that the Act contains a sunset clause at section 9. Unless extended by a resolution passed by both Houses prior to 7 June of this year, the clause will lapse on that date. The Act contains a provision for up to a maximum of three months at a time and this was seriously considered. However, consideration also had to be given to the exceptional nature of the legislation, the evolving epidemiological situation, the progress of our vaccination programme and the importance of aviation, hospitality and tourism to our country. As such, I do not propose to extend up to this maximum period. Rather, I am proposing to extend to 31 July. Notwithstanding this, subject to the passing of the proposed resolutions by each House, it is important to note that the Act does provide for further extensions of up to three months prior to the expiry of this proposed extension. Any further proposed extensions would be informed by the public health situation in July.
Throughout the pandemic, decisions on travel measures have sought to balance the urgent need to protect public health with the need to facilitate essential travel and to sustain connectivity into and out of Ireland as well as the vital importance of protecting human rights and civil liberties.
As has been widely reported, the Taoiseach will make an announcement on international travel tomorrow, including a statement on the introduction of EU Covid-19 certificates - what we have discussed as the EU digital green certificate. We recognise the growing expectation among the public of a gradual but increasing return to a more normal way of living, including foreign travel for non-essential purposes. We are also conscious of the serious challenges the pandemic has presented for the aviation, tourism and hospitality sectors. I wish to emphasise that this proposed extension of mandatory hotel quarantine to 31 July does not prevent the proposal of further legislative, operational or policy changes, including on the designation of countries. Rather, this extension would be a safeguard to manage the risk of importation of cases and variants of concern. It would also allow the economy to continue to reopen safely and for the vaccination programme to progress further.
I wish to be clear in my message to colleagues in the House today. Mandatory hotel quarantine has worked and is working. It has achieved and is achieving what we set out for it to do. It has helped to contain the virus and has gone a long way to obstructing variants of concern getting into the wider community. There has been a fall in detection of variants of concern in Ireland since late March, when mandatory hotel quarantine was introduced.
Ireland is at a critical stage in the vaccination programme and it is essential that this is not undermined. As of 25 May, a total of 4,400 people have entered mandatory hotel quarantine. Of these, there have been 173 Covid-19 detected cases, comprising 163 residents, nine staff and one unaccompanied minor. Of these cases, 59 variants of concern cases have been detected. This includes 47 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the UK and 12 cases of the B.1.351 variant first identified in South Africa or the P1 variant first identified in Brazil. A total of 49 cases were not suitable for whole genome sequencing while a further 58 cases are awaiting further clarification.
The data do not take account of cases which have been avoided in the community as a result of mandatory hotel quarantine. While home quarantine can be effective as a measure for lower-risk travellers, there are significant practical and legal challenges in monitoring and enforcing home quarantine for higher-risk travellers. The high level of people with asymptomatic infection remains a challenge. This creates a risk that new variants could be imported and would not be identified during the testing process in the absence of mandatory hotel quarantine. Many countries have been unable to adequately monitor new variants and this adds to the risk of circulation.
While we have recently seen encouraging research which indicates that the vaccines we are using are effective against emerging variants, we need to remain vigilant. A total of 2.5 million vaccines have been administered to date. As we discussed earlier in the Chamber, by the end of this week we estimate that half the adult population of Ireland will have had at least one vaccine dose. That is positive and it is great progress. Despite this positive progress, we must remain vigilant. It is as important as ever that we continue to follow the public health measures currently in place, including those relating to international travel.
I am of the view that mandatory hotel quarantine has been effective in supporting the public health measures to combat transmission of Covid-19 in Ireland and in particular, of variants of concern. It has contributed and continues to contribute to the reduction in case numbers and the creation of space in which a vaccination programme can be rolled out. In turn, this is making the gradual and safe opening of society and the economy possible. I thank Deputies for taking the time to listen to my opening remarks. I very much look forward to hearing contributions in this important debate.