'This variant is on tour': Experts unsure hotel quarantine will be effective against Omicron

'This variant is on tour': Experts unsure hotel quarantine will be effective against Omicron

Members of the Defence Forces awaiting passengers requiring mandatory hotel quarantine earlier this year. Picture: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Nphet is meeting this morning to consider whether more restrictions are needed after the country's first Omicron case was confirmed on Wednesday.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told his parliamentary party last night he is not convinced new restrictions are needed due to the concerning Covid variant.

The Government has already introduced some measures, including mandatory home quarantine, from seven southern African countries.

The Dáil will debate laws to bring back mandatory hotel quarantine today.

The measure was ended in September but the Government wants to bring the legislation back due to the Omicron variant.

The new laws will be temporary, lasting for three months after they pass.

However, the Oireachtas will be able to extend that for a further three months if needed.

The Government will take the unusual step of trying to fully pass these laws through the Dáil in a single day, before sending them to the Seanad on Friday.

Opposition TDs have hit out at the Government guillotining debate on the issue but Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said they know exactly what is in the bill as the Oireachtas passed it before, adding that it is not the third secret of Fatima.

The rules will be similar to last time – with people required to enter hotel quarantine, which they can leave with a negative PCR test after 10 days.

The mandatory hotel quarantine measure was ended in September but the Government wants to bring the legislation back due to the Omicron variant. Picture: Leon Farrell / RollingNews.ie
The mandatory hotel quarantine measure was ended in September but the Government wants to bring the legislation back due to the Omicron variant. Picture: Leon Farrell / RollingNews.ie

However, Dr David Nabarro, from the World Health Organisation, said they would have a limited impact.

Dr Nabarro said that in his experience blanket travel bans from particular parts of the world where a virus has been discovered don't stop the virus from spreading.

"Don't imagine that this will be enough to stop this virus variant from becoming a dominant variant in Ireland if it wants to," he said.

"If this virus is going to spread – particularly if it's got some advantages like it transmits more easily or it can evade the protection that we have from the vaccines that are being used at the moment – if it has these advantages, I'm telling you this variant will become dominant."

As the new variant is now in at least 23 countries, Trinity College neuro-scientist Tomás Ryan is also sceptical that mandatory hotel quarantine will be effective.

"Right now, mandatory hotel quarantine doesn't make sense unless we are going to apply it to every country, to every travel origin because this variant is on tour," said Prof Ryan.

By all means, we should be doing everything we can to reduce travel into Ireland but that is probably not going to be by mandatory hotel quarantine right now.

"It has to be with a more general discouragement of international travel."

The Irish South African Association is calling on the Government to end the home quarantine rule.

It says many Irish people are not going home for Christmas because they have to self-isolate for 10 days when they arrive here.

The group's secretary, Breda Kenealy, who lives in Johannesburg, said the rule was unfair.

Ms Kenealy said passengers should be required to present a negative PCR test before arrival and should be tested two days after landing in Ireland.

She said if these tests are negative and the person has been double vaccinated there is no reason why they should have to stay at home and isolate for 10 days.

"There is an awful lot of anger in South Africa at the moment and rightly so because – a bit like the Delta variant – it was picked up by the scientists in South Africa and suddenly it's the 'South African variant'.

"Now they are doing the same thing because it was our scientists that picked it up, now we are being penalised."

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