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Covid-19: Government set to finalise legislation on mandatory hotel quarantine

Inside Politics: Private security at facilities would have no enforcement powers

Good morning.

The Cabinet is due to hold its second meeting of the week today to sign off on legislation to enforce mandatory hotel quarantine in State-designated facilities.

Ministers discussed the Bill at their regular gathering yesterday, but some details had not been tied down, meaning Cabinet could not rubber-stamp the plans.

Once today’s incorporeal meeting has wrapped up, the legislation will be published, and there are suggestions it could come before the Dáil as early as tomorrow.


Some of the details have already emerged, of course. Under the new regime, passengers from high-risk countries will have to book a slot in one of the designated hotels.

Government officials are ironing out plans around how to safely transport these passengers from plane to hotel. It is likely the Defence Forces will be involved in some form. The traveller will foot a bill of around €2,000, which will cover accommodation, full board, laundry and transport.

Although there will be private security at the designated facilities, security providers would have no enforcement powers, meaning gardaí would have to come if there are non-compliance issues. The legislation will also set out what penalties people can expect if they try to skip quarantine.

There will be many questions over the coming days for Government as Opposition parties pore through the finer details. What will happen if, like other countries with similar regimes, a backlog develops? What about people flying home for a funeral from high-risk countries? What about those passengers who return from a holiday, dental appointment or not? Watch this space.

Students seek clarity amid Leaving Cert confusion

Many parents were following the unfolding news about schooling and education on Tuesday with a certain degree of confusion and frustration. They weren’t the only ones.

Ministers were somewhat surprised by news alerts detailing how they had been told by Minister for Education Norma Foley of plans for a phased reopening of schools from March 1st. Some of the Cabinet members received the alerts while they were in the meeting, at a point when there had been no such update.

After all of the confusion, students will be hoping for clarity this week on the Leaving Certificate at the very least. A meeting of the Cabinet subcommittee on education is planned for today, and yet another incorporeal Cabinet gathering could come hot on its heels.

In other developments, Carl O'Brien has reported this year's Junior Cert exams for 60,000 students look likely to be cancelled after education authorities confirmed it will not be possible to hold the exams alongside the Leaving Cert in June.

There are, of course, parallel talks ongoing around the reopening of schools generally.

Events could conspire to delay the Government’s grand plans again, however. There are suggestions emerging from Government that the timetable for the wider reopening of schools might be delayed following the latest public health advice on new variants of Covid-19.

Yet another meeting is planned for tomorrow that will examine the wider reopening of schools. That meeting, a Government spokesman said, would be informed by the latest advice from the European Centre for Disease Control on the new variants of Covid-19 that have raised risk levels.

Some good news on vaccines

It’s a big week on the Covid-19 vaccine front as men and women over the age of 85 receive their first shot.

Furthermore, Johnson & Johnson has applied for authorisation from the European Medicines Agency for its vaccine, meaning it could be cleared for use in weeks. We cover much of this in our lead today.

The single-shot vaccine, which is easily stored and distributed, is seen as key to accelerating the rollout of vaccine shots in Ireland.

As my colleague Jack Horgan-Jones has reported today in our main story, the Cabinet was updated on the possibility of opting into two further Covid-19 vaccines, one of which could be used as a “booster” shot. The two shots – manufactured by US drug maker Novavax and French company Valneva – are made using different vaccine technologies to those currently on offer.

The Valneva jab could have a long shelf life of between 18 and 36 months, Ministers were told, meaning it could be used as a booster shot.

Ministers were also told people aged between 65 and 69 could begin their vaccination as early as the start of March through GPs – but only if the AstraZeneca vaccine is approved for use in people this age. This cohort could then be completed by the middle of May.

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Dáil business kicks off with Leaders’ Questions at noon followed by the Order of Business at 12.24. Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue takes questions on his brief and Covid-19 after lunch, and then the Government’s Land Development Agency Bill is up. The Dáil is scheduled to adjourn at 6pm.

Four committees are holding virtual private meetings, and the Seanad resumes its business on Friday.