Legislation to allow the Government reintroduce mandatory hotel quarantine for people arriving from countries deemed to be high risk passed all stages in the Dáil on Thursday night.
The Health Amendment (No 3) Bill 2021 was passed and will now be sent to the Seanad. No vote was required as less than 10 TDs opposed the Bill.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said "hopefully" mandatory hotel quarantine wouldn't be needed but that if the Chief Medical Officer felt it was required, "we want to be able to do it quickly".
Mr Donnelly said in terms of balancing a very significant public health threat, “taking such extraordinary measures is warranted in a targeted and time limited way”.
The minister said no one was suggesting that the introduction of mandatory hotel quarantine would stop the Omicron variant but that it would “slow it down”.
Independent TD Catherine Connolly said she would not support the Bill and that "restrictions of liberty must be targeted and must be proportionate".
"It must be set out clearly what they're trying to achieve and that never happened in the Dáil since the pandemic," the Galway West TD said.
“We all worked with the Government in the beginning and here we are now at this stage, nearly two years into a pandemic and we have not even begun to put a human rights frame on the restrictions that we’re bringing in.”
People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said he would oppose the measure as he felt it was "pointless" and didn't see any purpose to it.
“Mandatory quarantine can’t stop the Omicron variant and that’s the only reason that it is even being considered. It just can’t stop it so what’s the point,” he said. “What’s the end game in terms of putting a lot of resources, a lot of money and quite a draconian measure into place?
“We supported, although we didn’t agree with your [the Government’s] version of mandatory quarantine, but we called for mandatory quarantine when the population was not vaccinated, when it was believed that vaccination could produce the possibility of elimination.”
The Dun Laoghaire TD said that even with more than 90 per cent of the population vaccinated, “we can’t stop variants”.
Sinn Féin's health spokesman David Cullinane said there should be a level of "scrutiny and debate" within a 48 hour period of the regulations coming into effect and they should be laid before the Oireachtas.
Under the legislation, travellers who have been in a "designated state" within the 14 days prior to their arrival in Ireland will be obliged to undergo a two week period of quarantine.
It also includes a provision to allow exit from quarantine before the completion of 14 days if travellers return a ‘not-detected’ Covid-19 test upon arrival and a further such test on day 10 of quarantine.
There are a limited number of other circumstances under which travellers may leave quarantine, such as for medical treatment or “other humanitarian reasons”.
The Bill also sets out that a public health doctor can permit a traveller in hotel quarantine who has tested positive for Covid 19 to be released after the initial 10-day period if they believe the person does not pose a risk of infection.