Following our earlier session, when the House discussed amendments to the mandatory hotel quarantine provisions of the Health Act 1947, I am now proposing to extend the provisions of the Health (Amendment) Act 2021 with regard to mandatory hotel quarantine to 31 October. The Act contains a sunset clause in section 9. Unless it is extended by resolution passed by each House of the Oireachtas before 31 July, it will lapse on that date. The Act allows for extensions of up to a maximum of three months. It has already been extended once from 8 June to 31 July.
The Act requires travellers, who in the 14 days prior to their arrival in Ireland have been in one or more designated states, to quarantine in a designated facility for up to 14 days unless they are otherwise exempt. The quarantine period can be reduced if a negative Covid test is returned after ten days. Also, those who do not present evidence of a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours prior to arrival are currently required to quarantine in a designated facility until they return a negative test. This requirement is in place regardless of where they travelled from, unless they are exempt – for example if they have received the full course of a vaccine that has been authorised by the European Medicines Agency, EMA.
Mandatory hotel quarantine has been in operation since 26 March and is an exceptional and temporary measure. It continues to be an important safeguard in managing the risk of importation of cases and variants of concern.
A single service provider 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 its facilities.
The provisions of the Act allow travellers to request a review of decisions relating to their quarantine. This can only be undertaken once quarantine has begun and on a limited number of grounds. Reviews are conducted by independent appeals officers and a seven-day-a-week service is provided. 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 the law.
A notice of rights and obligations is provided to passengers on arrival in the State, usually by the first team to encounter relevant passengers. 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.
Up to 13 July, 8,420 people have quarantined in designated facilities. Latest figures show that 376 residents have tested positive for Covid-19. Cases were recorded in travellers from 35 countries. If these people had not been in mandatory hotel quarantine, it is likely to have resulted in a significant number of additional cases in the community. We know that variants of concern are being identified in mandatory hotel quarantine and without it, there is a risk that new variants could be imported and would not be identified. In addition, many countries have been unable to adequately monitor new variants, which adds to the risk of circulation. Mandatory hotel quarantine is creating space for the continued great progress of our vaccination system. We can be proud that 5 million vaccines have now been administered. Despite the significant challenges of the HSE cyberattack, as of 15 July, more than 2.72 million people have received a first dose and more than 2.2 million people are fully vaccinated.
Currently, 61 states are designated on a risk assessment based on Covid incidence rates and variants of concern. We are all keenly aware of the rapidly evolving nature of this pandemic. There is flexibility built into the mandatory hotel quarantine system to allow it to adapt to any changes in context, particularly with the system for the designation and revocation of states. We need to have mandatory hotel quarantine in place in the coming months to allow for further progress on our vaccination programme. Mandatory hotel quarantine will not be in place for any longer than is necessary to protect public health. It is important to have it in place right now as we re-open our society, economy and international travel while dealing, at the same time, with the situation of cases we were discussing earlier this morning.