By Cate McCurry, PA
The Minister for Health said it was “inevitable” that people would race to book flights to Ireland from countries added to the quarantine list to avoid isolating in a hotel for two weeks.
The Government announced on Friday night that the US, Canada, France and 13 other countries would be added to the quarantine list from Thursday.
Stephen Donnelly defended the decision to leave a six-day gap between the announcement and when it would come into force.
It was reported over the weekend there was a surge in the number of people booking flights from the US to Ireland to beat the quarantine system.
Great to see schools re-open fully today, the easing of the 5km limit, and residential construction return.
Soon outdoor activities like golf, tennis, and underage training will return too.
We are making good progress in the fight against #COVID19
— Micheál Martin (@MichealMartinTD) April 12, 2021
“Inevitably when you categorise any status category two, there is going to be a few days … and there is going to be a bit of this,” he told RTÉ's Morning Ireland.
“In the main what we’re going to see is a very significant reduction in travel from these countries, which is exactly what we want.
“For those people who do have to come home for exceptional reasons, we have the additional security measures in place.”
He said that hotel capacity was based on an 80 per cent reduction in travel.
“What we saw in the UK, for example, was between an 80 per cent and a 95 per cent reduction,” Mr Donnelly added.
“We’ve seen for the first 33 countries a very significant reduction.”
✅Over 1,045,919 people partially/fully vaccinated.
✅303 cases today - lowest since mid-December.
✅Lowest no. of new hospitilisations since November.
✅Slight easing of restrictions from tomorrow👇#StaySafe pic.twitter.com/hv92ch25Nk
— Simon Coveney (@simoncoveney) April 11, 2021
Mr Donnelly said the Government can increase hotel capacity if the number of people travelling into Ireland is more than anticipated.
He added: “We’ll bring more capacity online. At the moment we have a little more than 650 beds, that’s been ramped up to an excess of 1,100 and there is the facility to go significantly above that.
“It is the case though, as with the New Zealand system, the Australian system, and other quarantine systems, that you may not in all cases be able to have a room allocated on every single day that you may want to travel.”
Mr Donnelly said it was possible the Government may have to cap the number of people travelling into Ireland.
He said it would be based on room availability.
On Sunday, a man was released from mandatory hotel quarantine to care for his dying father after an appeal to the High Court.
Derek Jennings (47) is fully vaccinated but was forced to enter the facility at Dublin’s Crowne Plaza hotel on Friday after returning from Israel.
Mr Jennings, from Clondalkin, had been working in Israel since February, but rushed home when his father, who suffers from cancer, collapsed and was admitted to intensive care during the week.
Meanwhile, the Government is today receiving advice from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) on the use of AstraZeneca in Ireland.
The body may advise on restrictions of its use after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) warned that rare blood clots have been associated with the coronavirus vaccine.
There are concerns that any restrictions could effect the country’s vaccine programme.
Mr Donnelly said: “Specific to the Niac guide guidance, obviously, will we just need to wait and see what they say.
“They’ve given guidance previously on various vaccines and age groups and that has all been implemented.
“It comes at a big operational challenge, there’s no question about it.
“But the state has stood up to that challenge each time and maintained a very strong proportion of 95% of vaccines that have come into the country and have been administered, obviously there’s some that are held back for the second doses.
“So we’ll wait to see what Niac says, and if there are operational changes that need to be made, we will make them.”
It comes as the Republic begins to lift some of its Level 5 restrictions.
Monday sees the 5km travel limit relaxed to allow people to travel anywhere within their county, or up to 20km if crossing into another county.
People from two households are now allowed to meet up outdoors for social and recreational purposes – however, the Government has insisted that private gardens remain off limits.
All schoolchildren are to return to in-class learning from Monday, while construction on housing and essential projects will also resume.
Further easing of restrictions is expected on April 19th and April 26th.