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Donnelly rules out “Zero Covid”, smells “whiff of xenophobia”

The Minister for Health told the Seanad that adopting a “Zero Covid” strategy would mean maintaining the lockdown beyond September, keeping schools closed and having a 2km limit on travel.

Minister Stephen Donnelly has ruled out a “Zero Covid” approach to Covid-19 in Ireland, but warned that he smelled a “whiff of xenophobia” in the current debate about quarantining people coming from abroad.

“I’ve heard people say we must protect ‘our people from foreign people’. That’s not what this is about,” he told the Seanad this evening.

He warned there was a “whiff of xenophobia” in recent Dáil debates about quarantining people from abroad, and that racism was historically “linked to the perceived fear of importation of disease”.

Calling for an end to mention of a “Brazilian” or “South African” variant, Donnelly said new strains should be called by their scientific names.

“We are moving away from describing these variants as the Brazilian variant or the South African variant. We’re moving towards calling them by their names, such as B117,” he said.

Addressing amendments calling for “Zero Covid” suppression of the virus, Donnelly said “it’s just not possible” because of the onerous ramifications for society and that quaranting all travellers would be unworkable.

With a majority voting against the proposed amendments, the Seanad passed the Health (Amendment) Bill to require mandatory hotel quarantines for travellers from the 33 countries on a “Category 2” list so far.

The bill will now go to the president, although no date has been decided for the legislation’s implementation.

The legislation contains a sunset clause which means it will have to be re-approved by the Dáil and Seanad after three months.

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