Fully vaccinated Irish teachers returning from their posts in the Middle East are facing mandatory hotel quarantine because they received the Chinese-made version of the Covid-19 vaccine not recognised by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
Colm Brophy, Minister of State for the Diaspora, said the situation should be looked at to take the Chinese vaccine into account.
The issue was raised at Thursday's Oireachtas Foreign Affairs Committee meeting by Fine Gael TD David Stanton who had been contacted by a number of affected teachers.
Asked if they would face mandatory hotel quarantine despite being vaccinated, Mr Brophy confirmed that only vaccines approved by the EMA were viewed as compliant.
“For those teachers returning who were vaccinated with the Chinese vaccine they would be required to quarantine on their return,” he said.
However, he added that if vaccines were recognised by the World Health Organisation as valid, the issue should be examined.
“The overwhelming use… for people living in the Middle East is the Chinese vaccine. Therefore, we will have Irish people coming back, fully vaccinated with a certificate of full vaccination,” he said. “And I think we need to maybe be thinking about how we broaden our look at this in terms of opening up aviation to allow for that vaccine to be taken into account.”
While the committee did not hear specific numbers, it is understood that anywhere in the region of 2,000 Irish primary and secondary teachers travel to the region every year, lured by free flights and tax-free earnings.
Speaking to The Irish Times, Michael Gillespie, general secretary of the Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI), said he would be concerned by the situation and teachers "should be given every opportunity to get back for interviews at this time of the year".
Meanwhile, on the issue of passport application backlogs, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney told the committee that last week more than 16,400 applications were received against almost 20,700 issued.
“So we are issuing more than we are getting in terms of applications,” he said. “But that being said there’s still just over 93,000 applications in the system.”
He said the Passport Service was meeting its target of returning standard adult renewals within 10 days, and by the end of next month this should also apply to children.
“A lot of people are planning for the reopening of international travel which I think will remind people to look at their passport maybe for the first time in 18 months,” he said. “All of a sudden we’re going to find that a lot of people want passports renewed quickly and that is going to put us under pressure.”
However, the outlook for J1 visas for student travel to the US this year was not positive, he said, and was “effectively not happening” because of travel restrictions.