Northern Ireland news

No decision on hotel quarantine by Northern Ireland Executive despite health minister plea

Health Minister Robin Swann wants the introduction of hotel quarantine for overseas arrivals to curb the spread of coronavirus variants
Seanín Graham

NO decision has been reached by the Northern Ireland Executive on hotel quarantine for overseas travellers - more than a fortnight after Health Minister Robin Swann requested the measure.

Mandatory hotel isolation for British and Irish citizens returning from 33 Covid hotspot countries will come into force in England next week as part of a strategy to curb the spread of infectious variants, including those from South Africa and Brazil.

It also emerged yesterday that all travellers entering the UK will be required to take two coronavirus tests during a 10-day quarantine period.

Last month, The Irish News revealed that Mr Swann wrote to the First and Duty First Ministers on January 24 seeking the "urgent" creation of a cross-departmental group to examine "enhanced quarantine" for overseas arrivals - including airport hotels for "supervised" isolation.

When asked what action it had taken in response to Mr Swann's letter and in light of developments in England, an Executive Office spokeswoman was unable to confirm if enforced hotel quarantine will be established in the north.

Instead, she said: "Cross-departmental work is continuing on supported isolation arrangements for international travellers, including the potential use of hotels".

Public health expert Dr Gabriel Scally criticised the delay and insisted all countries must have the same approach to quarantine.

While Belfast has few international arrivals, Dr Scally said it was "impossible" to trace where a traveller's journey originated as there are so many global airport hubs and transfer flights.

"The nature of air travel these days, people very often take inter-connecting flights. It’s very easy for them to do that, it's the way airlines structure their business. They may have booked separate flights, they may have used other modes of transport along the way. You can imagine someone flying into Paris and getting on the Eurostar," he said.

"So it's a nonsense to think you can keep the variant out unless you treat all incoming arrivals exactly the same."

Countries including New Zeland, Taiwan and Australia introduced mandatory hotel quarantine at the beginnng ot the pandemic, and have recorded huge success in reducing infection rates and death tolls.

Dr Scally said politicians on both sides of the Irish border need to "learn lessons" from these countries in relation to planning and understanding of how managed isolation works.

"There needs to be a clear commitment to this, it's not clear that commitment is there. Robin Swann should be congratulated for taking the initiative and pushing the issue so forcibly with his colleagues. I am disappointed that he hasn’t had the response that something so crucially important deserves."


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