Aoife Moore: Despite the Government's efforts to mess it up, quarantine is working

Their hearts weren't in it, but the Government should have listened to George Michael — 'If you're gonna do it, do it right'
Aoife Moore: Despite the Government's efforts to mess it up, quarantine is working

Kirstie McGrath leaving the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Santry on Tuesday. Along with Niamh Mulreany,  she was detained briefly in Mountjoy Prison after refusing to quarantine upon arrival from Dubai on April 2.
Picture: Leon Farrell / RollingNews.ie

There can't be many Wham! fans in Government, as the words of the late great George Michael: "If you're gonna do it, do it right", seem to have gone right over their heads.

Mandatory hotel quarantine, our long-awaited buffer against more contagious and more deadly variants is here, 11 months late and beset with issues.

Public health officials called for the initiative back in May, worried that variants were on their way and would hammer our ability to fight Covid-19.

Health officials were right

They were right of course, and now as the barn door flaps in the wind, we have our own Irish version of the programme which ensured Australia and New Zealand could return to some semblance of normal life months ago.

The Government fought as long as it could against the idea, while others say that the opposition bounced the cabinet into the decision. So here we are, with an expensive, shambolic and poorly thought-out system.

The initial list of countries proposed for the programme was the first indicator that the Government's heart really wasn't in it.

The public row between the ministers for health and foreign affairs left us in no doubt.

Powerful countries — such as the United States, where cases had been rampant, and France, where a deadly new variant was spreading — were notably absent at first, while a long list of small, less-developed nations with tiny populations were included.

The problems emerged as quickly as the hotel doors opened. 

Days in, three people escaped due to the fact that the private security firm tasked with keeping them in the hotel could not actually stop anyone leaving. 

We had barely herded them back into confinement before the court cases started.

Two women who had booked medical procedures abroad before the move returned and refused to quarantine. A fully-vaccinated man flew home to be with his dying father. And another fully-vaccinated woman flew back to attend to her recently diagnosed father.

For a while, it looked like a ten-day-old baby might have to set up shop in Crowne Plaza, Santry — if they could even get booked in, as the booking portal was paused because a number of walk-ins had taken up hotel rooms without pre-booking.

In response, we've seen chopping and changing of the rules, the vaccinated no longer having to quarantine, and exemptions made on compassionate grounds.

Considering that this had been talked about at Government level since January before finally going live in March, it beggars belief that such obvious scenarios weren't planned for. 

Most of us could have guessed that family emergencies, the fully-vaccinated, essential workers travelling for essential reasons, and those who weren't aware of the system would all be issues that would arise — but the Government seemed to be caught on the hop each time, none the wiser as each new case appeared.

The shambolic operating of the initiative isn't even what's brought it to international attention. We now appear to have annoyed the EU too, who are querying how we designate the countries and whether we're in line with EU law.

One would've expected that our European partners would have had this information when we began implementing the bloc's strictest quarantine programme.

We already know the system is working: Eighteen cases including four variants of concern have been found in the hotel guests, variants that could have spread rapidly had they been quarantining at home with others.

The fact we know it's working is all the more reason to improve the programme, rather than undermine it.

No one wants to keep people in quarantine, but for a public who have been in lockdown for months, it's a basic safety measure to ensure we can get back to some kind of normality.

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