Thursday, 25 February 2021
Health (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)
I welcome this opportunity to examine the Health (Amendment) Bill 2021, which provides for the establishment of mandatory quarantine for travellers arriving into the State in order to limit the spread of Covid-19. I thank the Ministers present and their ministerial colleagues in the Departments of Health and Justice for their efforts during this global pandemic. I equally acknowledge the untimely deaths of the 4,237 people who have succumbed to the virus in Ireland. Once again, I offer my deep condolences to all those who lost loved ones during this pandemic.
Like everyone in Ireland, I am extremely grateful for the efforts of our front-line healthcare workers, who have worked so tirelessly and diligently to keep people safe over the past year. Thankfully the numbers of people hospitalised due to Covid-19 have reduced and other indicators are beginning to become more regular and normal, which is encouraging. However, we cannot let our guard down and it is right that we continue to suppress the virus during the month of March. This will ensure our GPs, nurses and medics can continue to roll out vaccinations without the pressure of dealing with a fourth wave of cases.
News this week that 82% of adults will be offered their first jab by the end of June is very encouraging. I also welcome the changes to the vaccine roll-out sequence to prioritise people with a high risk of complications from Covid , including people with serious underlying conditions. However, more must be done for carers in particular, as the Minister will know, and these people should be categorised as essential workers. I ask for that situation to be reviewed. The roll-out of vaccines with GPs has been going well but not surprisingly, there have been teething issues. Some people are being asked to travel excessive distances. In Dublin, people aged over 80 years old have been offered vaccinations in the Helix in Dublin City University, DCU. This is an excessive journey for some people. We must look at having more local hubs. I ask the Minister to examine both this issue and the reports of vaccinations not arriving at GP practices and appointments being cancelled at short notice.
While the vaccine is being distributed and Covid case numbers are low, we must make every effort to avoid importing new cases. This where this new Bill comes in, as a proactive measure to introduce mandatory hotel quarantining to provide an extra level of protection against new variants entering from high-risk countries. The main aim of the Bill is to amend the Health Act 1947 to provide for mandatory quarantine in designated facilities for people travelling into the State, particularly from certain areas where there is significant transmission of Covid-19 or variants of concern.
Rightly, the Act leaves the designation of high-risk category 2 countries to the Minister for Health, which will allow him flexibility to add new countries when necessary. The list has 20 countries and passengers who arrive from these countries are subject to stricter quarantine requirements and must complete 14 days of quarantine. I also welcome the three-month sunset clause, which will ensure this necessary but extremely strict law will only continue as long as is absolutely required.
I conclude by asking all Deputies in this House to be cautious about the language they use concerning international variants of Covid. Talk of people from Brazil, for example, who it should be noted are legally resident in Ireland, importing the P1 variant to meat plants and other places is regrettable. This kind of inflammatory, socially divisive rhetoric should be avoided. I thank the Minister for introducing this important legislation and I hope it will be supported by all Deputies.