I propose the continuation into force of the Health (Amendment) Act 2021 to 31 July 2021.
To remind the House, 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, in particular variants of concern.
The Act contains a sunset clause at section 9 and, unless extended by a resolution passed by each House of the Oireachtas prior to 7 June 2021, it will expire on that date. 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. Any further proposed extensions would be informed by the public health situation in July.
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 a 14-day mandatory quarantine in a designated facility. This requirement is subject to a number of exemptions and can be reduced if a negative Covid test is taken on or after day ten. The Act also requires those travellers without a negative PCR test taken no more than 72 hours before arrival to enter mandatory hotel quarantine until they return a negative test. These tests are turned around very quickly by the HSE.
My Department has led on the implementation of mandatory hotel quarantine supported by several Departments, including the Departments of Defence, Foreign Affairs, Transport, Justice, and Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. Also involved were the Defence Forces, An Garda Síochána, the Border Management Unit, the Garda National Immigration Bureau, Revenue Customs and the HSE. A single service provider is providing full-board accommodation 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 their facilities.
The provisions of the Act allow travellers to request a review of decisions relating to their quarantine. However, this can only be undertaken once quarantine has begun and on a limited number of grounds. The Department of Justice is supporting my Department in relation to the review 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 are also providing a service in terms of the International Protection Appeals Tribunal. As of 26 May, there have been a total of 1,563 appeals. Of these, 175 or 11% have been granted and 1,388 have been refused.
Medical services are available on-site 24-7. It is also possible for a person to leave quarantine in the case of a 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 missions of the Department of Foreign Affairs, for deferrals of prepayment for Irish citizens and residents abroad in hardship circumstances. A procedure is also in place for Erasmus students. They should contact the Erasmus office in their third level institutes, which will then make the booking on their behalf. The standard costs associated with mandatory hotel quarantine are covered by the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science.
As of 27 May, 4,616 people have entered mandatory hotel quarantine. Of these, 178 residents tested positive for Covid-19. According to the latest available HSE data, 59 cases associated with variants of concern have been detected. We are awaiting the results of whole genome sequencing on some additional samples at this time. This data does not take account of cases which have been avoided in the community as a result of mandatory hotel quarantine. While home quarantine could 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 the risk that new variants could be imported and would not be identified during the testing process in the absence of mandatory hotel quarantine. In addition, many countries have been unable to adequately monitor new variants, which 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. Some 2.7 million vaccines have been administered to date. That means that over half of the adult population has received a first dose. Despite this positive progress, we must remain vigilant.
As the Taoiseach announced on Friday, from 19 July Ireland will operate the EU digital Covid certificate, DCC, for travel originating within the EU or European Economic Area. Also from that date, Ireland will broadly align itself to the EU approach to non-essential travel from third countries. This proposed extension does not preclude adaptation of the operation of mandatory hotel quarantine in response to the introduction of the digital Covid certificate. The legislation permits the designation of states and the revocation of such designations, and the creation of further categories of exempted traveller. As I mention this, I am pleased to share with the House that we recently revoked the designated status of Belgium, France, Luxembourg and the United States.
In light of the risks associated with variants of concern, it is essential that cases arriving in Ireland are detected and traced as effectively as possible. In this regard, it is important to recall that many cases, 30% to 40%, are asymptomatic. Without mandatory hotel quarantine, it is likely that certain persons infected with new variants may arrive and not subsequently present for testing due to a lack of symptoms. I would like to re-emphasise that mandatory hotel quarantining has worked and is working very effectively. It has been effective in supporting the public health measures to combat the transmission of Covid-19 in Ireland and in particular, as that relates to the variants of concern. It has contributed to the reduction in case numbers and the creation of space in which the vaccination programme can be rolled out. In turn, this is supporting the continued reopening of our economy and society, and it is also playing an important role in supporting our safe return to international travel.