I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I will be sharing time with the Tánaiste. I am pleased to address the House on the Health (Amendment) (No 2) Bill 2021, which provides for the reopening of indoor hospitality under certain conditions and makes minor amendments to mandatory hotel quarantine. The Bill will give effect to the Government's decision to enable access to relevant indoor premises for fully vaccinated persons and persons who are immune from Covid-19 by virtue of the fact that they have recovered from the disease, as well as certain children and staff.
On 28 June, the National Public Health Emergency Team, NPHET, advised that indoor activities expected to reopen on 5 July "which, by their nature are high-risk activities involving significant levels of social mixing in indoor environments, should only be permitted for those who have been fully protected by vaccination or who have had Covid-19 infection in the previous nine months." NPHET advised that easing of these measures should only proceed when supported by a robust, non-reproducible and enforceable system of verification of vaccination or immunity status.
The Delta variant is highly transmissible and we must continue to take a cautious and pragmatic approach to reopening. Every week of late we have seen more than 300,000 additional vaccine doses administered and every week hundreds of thousands of people complete vaccination. By the end of this week, all second doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine should have been provided and three in every five adults are now fully vaccinated. Later this week, we will have administered 5 million doses of vaccine.
The Bill amends sections of the 1947 Act that deal with mandatory hotel quarantine. Provisions include flexibility to specify alternative testing processes for the purposes of mandatory hotel quarantine or as an alternative to entry to a designated hotel for passengers arriving without a test. Provisions would also regulate for the removal of the obligation on some or all travellers to have a pre-travel test and allow for release from quarantine of those recovered from Covid-19.
I will now take the House through the key provisions of the Bill in detail. The Bill is divided into seven sections. Section 1 sets out the Short Title, commencement and operational provisions. Provisions relating to accessing indoor premises are time-limited and they may continue initially until 9 October or beyond that by a single extension, not exceeding three months, by resolution of each House of the Oireachtas. Amending provisions to mandatory hotel quarantine will only commence if public health conditions are suitable and continue no longer than these quarantine arrangements remain in force. Section 2 is a standard definitions section.
Section 3 inserts new sections 31AB to 31AL into the Health Act 1947. Section 31AB provides that it shall be lawful for an indoor operator otherwise not be permitted to open to grant access to a relevant indoor premises under the following conditions. These are that reasonable steps have been taken to ensure that only permitted persons are admitted; that operators do not knowingly allow access to persons who are not permitted persons; that personal data should not be retained; and that the operator must adhere to guidelines by certain bodies prescribed by the Minister. The section also provides that the Minister may make regulations across such areas as: safeguards for different levels of access; operation and enforcement; additional classes of permitted persons; information for proof of immunity; changes to the scope of what constitute relevant indoor premises; further conditions of operating, guidelines that must be adhered to; changes to the scope of persons who may be at a premises in the course of employment, on contract or otherwise in a professional capacity but do not meet the definition of a "permitted person"; persons other than parent or guardian who may accompany a minor; and ancillary matters. This approach will allow adjustment, if necessary, of the arrangements in the light of experience and in response to evolving circumstances.
Section 31AC provides that an operator may request evidence that a person is permitted. Providing a forged or fraudulent document is an offence with a fine of up to €2,500. Sections 31AD to 31AK relate to compliance, inspection, cessation orders and appeals. Powers include the power to seek emergency closure orders. Section 31AL provides that data shall only be processed to verify proof of immunity and retained for no longer than required.
Section 4 provides for various definitions, some of which I will go through. An indoor operator is a licence holder; a person involved in the management or governance of a club; and, in respect of other premises, a person in charge of such an establishment. A permitted person is a person in possession of proof of their immunity; a person under 18 years, or such other age under 18 as may be prescribed, accompanied a parent, guardian or a person in loco parentis; a person in a professional capacity or in the course of employment, with provision to prescribe persons to whom this provision does not apply; or as prescribed in regulations. Proof of immunity is: an EU digital Covid certificate showing that the person is fully vaccinated or otherwise prescribed; a prescribed document in written or electronic form issued by a body implementing a vaccination programme on behalf of a state, as may be prescribed, confirming that the person has received such vaccination, or combination of vaccinations, as may be prescribed, including those currently approved; or proof of recovery as may be prescribed. A relevant indoor premises is one where food or non-alcoholic beverages may be lawfully sold for consumption there; one where alcohol is lawfully sold or supplied for consumption on the premises; or another premises or class of premises prescribed. This section also provides for offences by a body corporate, jurisdiction of the District and Circuit Courts and service of documents.
Section 5 amends section 38B of the Act of 1947 and introduces a provision for a public health doctor to assess that a person, in quarantine because the person has been in a designated state and received a positive Covid-19 test no longer poses a threat of infection. The person may be permitted to leave quarantine after the standard ten-day period rather than completing the additional 14 days currently required. This covers those who have recovered from Covid-19 but continuing to test positive. The measure exists for travellers from a designated state who are in quarantine because they did not have a negative Covid-19 test upon arrival.
The section provides for a change in definition of the pre-travel testing requirement from a PCR test to a test as defined in regulations. This allows for any changes in pre-testing requirements to be incorporated automatically. It inserts section 38B(3A) which would allow travellers obliged to quarantine as a result of arriving from a non-designated state without a valid pre-travel test to undergo post-arrival testing rather than being automatically obliged to enter quarantine. Regulations can be introduced as a result of the insertion of section 38G(de). The section will ensure that the review process will be available to travellers covered by the new section 38B(3A) as it is to others.
Section 6 amends section 38G of the Act of 1947. Section 38G(dd) will permit the Minister to make regulations, as public health advice allows, for tests other than PCR tests for the purposes of hotel quarantine. It will allow the Minister to regulate on the administration of new tests and any fees payable by applicable travellers. Section 38G(de) will permit the Minister, having regard to the advice of the Chief Medical Officer, to regulate for a testing pathway alternative to mandatory hotel quarantine for travellers who arrive without a valid pre-travel test or are otherwise exempt from the requirement to undergo mandatory hotel quarantine.
Section 7 amends section 38K of the 1947 Act with consequential amendments from drafting changes and to correct a drafting error in the Health (Amendment) (No. 1) Act 2021 in section 38G(1)(a).
I am pleased to provide this House with an overview of the main provisions in the Bill, which we will have the opportunity to discuss in greater detail on Committee Stage. I look forward to hearing colleagues' contributions during this Second Stage debate and I commend the Bill to the House.