A 74-year old grandmother who flew from New Zealand to live with her family in Ireland, says that she feels “a prisoner” after being forced to stay in a Dublin quarantine hotel – even though her country of origin has an exceptionally low rate of Covid infection and is not on Ireland’s “high-risk” countries list.
Elizabeth Malcolm broke down in tears as she recounted her “distressing” experience of being told she would have to pay thousands to quarantine in Dublin because of a two and a half hour stopover in Dubai, where she never left the airport. “I feel in despair beyond all words now,” she said in her appeal to the Irish authorities, which has been seen by Gript.
She says that she was brought instead to a hotel near Dublin airport, where members of the Defence Forces and security ensure that no-one is allowed to leave. Ms Malcolm had taken two PCR tests which tested negative for Covid tests before leaving New Zealand – and for another since arriving in Ireland.
She is only permitted to leave her hotel room for two 15 minute “fresh air” breaks – by appointment and with a security officer – exiting and entering through the back door of the hotel. Ms Malcolm has now been at the quarantine hotel for 5 days since last Sunday.
“I feel like a prisoner, ” the grandmother of two teenage boys said. “Nothing about this makes any sense, especially when I followed all the rules and I’ve tested negative for Covid three times now. I’m being treated like a prisoner because of a last-minute change in policy that doesn’t even make any sense, and it’s so isolating.” Family are not allowed to visit at the hotel, with even window visits forbidden.
She says that although she has twice appealed the decision to quarantine her to the authorities in Ireland, the restriction has not been lifted.
“Being locked up in a room on my own with absolutely no-one to talk too – after I’ve tested negative for Covid – is damaging my emotional and mental well-being,” she said. “The medical assessment I had to undergo describes me as ‘fit and healthy’, but this ongoing confinement and feeling of insecurity is so upsetting.”
WATCH: 74-year old grandmother says she feels a prisoner in quarantine – after flying from ultra-safe New Zealand, unable to leave her room except for just two 15 minute ‘fresh air’ breaks a day
Ms Malcolm said she was excited and happy to be moving to Ireland and be with her family. She sold her home to move to Ireland to live with her daughter. In preparation for the journey she took two Covid tests, and both returned negative. She and her daughter had also checked to make sure that mandatory hotel quarantine did not apply.
“I did everything that was asked of me,” she said. “I had even booked a business class seat to try to minimise contact, and brought two masks for the flight – even though it ended up being pretty empty. But I’m still in quarantine.”
“I’ve tested negative for Covid three times now. I’m no threat to anyone and this is very upsetting and unnecessary,” Ms Malcolm said. “My daughter had my own bedroom and bathroom ready for me so I could quarantine there in Kilkenny.”
Her first flight, from Christ-church on the southern island of New Zealand to Auckland was uneventful. However, Ms Malcolm said she was shocked and confused when she was told by the check-in desk at Auckland airport on March 26th that the rules had just changed and that she was now obliged to book – and pay for – hotel quarantine in Dublin.
She was told at the Emirates check-in that the rules had now changed, just hours before, and, because of a scheduled two hour stop-over in Dubai, she was now obliged to book quarantine at a cost of NZ$3,381 – some €1,870.
The 74-year old said: “I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t call my daughter because of the time difference – it was the middle of the night in Ireland. I couldn’t get on the flight without paying for the quarantine. People were shocked: some of them didn’t end up getting on the flight, an attendant later told me on the plane.”
“I ended up paying for the quarantine – and flying completely unprepared for it – as I just didn’t know what to do, and I was worried I’d lose my flight,” she said.
“At the stop-over in Dubai, I went to the transit lounge, didn’t shop, sanitised my hands, just waited to get the connecting flight, but I feel like I’m being punished for nothing,” she said. “No-one was allowed into the transit lounge unless they had a Covid negative result. You can’t pass on a virus you don’t have.”
“I kept crying on the plane, it was just so upsetting. I’m coming from a country with almost no cases of Covid, I just felt it couldn’t be true,” she said. “Now I’m locked into a hotel with two breaks a day, it feels like a prison.”
A person found guilty of being in breach of mandatory hotel quarantine is liable for a fine of up to €2,000, imprisonment for 1 month, or both according to gov.ie
“When we landed, we were brought in a group to the hotel. I was told that there was no chance to appeal unless I was booked into the quarantine hotel. I talked to the Liaison Officer at the hotel to ask him to appeal my case. I’ve appealed twice now, but they won’t let me leave.”
Ms Malcolm’s daughter said that while the hotel was doing its best, the quarantine restrictions meant that her stay was unlike an ordinary hotel stay.
“My mother advised them that she can’t eat sugar or wheat, but today for breakfast they gave her an orange, bananas and a muffin, none of which she can eat, and she can’t go to a shop to get something else,” she said. “The room hasn’t been cleaned since she got there.”
Her daughter said that the family was in shock with the “complete lack of empathy and regard for a fellow human being and an older person who needs support”.
“We are all in shock in our family. We were looking forward to picking up my Mum, a Granny, from the airport, to bring her home to quarantine at home. Where she would have her own room and bathroom and where we could care for her properly. Instead we are frantically trying to find a way to make sure that she has enough supplies to make the required 14day quarantine period as less stressful as possible for her. It seems very cruel to me the way this has been handled. It shows a clear lack of understanding of the impact this last minute decision to quarantine has on people,” she said.
“Please, please explain to me how someone travelling from one of the safest countries in the world as far as Covid-19 goes – New Zealand – and who has completed two PCR tests and not ever left the terminal at Dubai suddenly becomes classified as travelling from a high-risk state? It beggars belief that this can happen,” she said.
The Irish authorities have now twice refused Ms Malcolm’s appeal, noting that the measures introduced on March 26th make no allowance for the length of stay in Dubai – just 2.5 hours in the case of the New Zealander.
It says that: “Regulations will also exempt transit passengers who do not leave the port or airport before travelling out of the State and who have a ‘not detected’ COVID-19 PCR test result, following a test taken within 72 hours of their arrival into Ireland.”
This could be read as allowing an exemption for passengers who did not leave a port or airport while in transit to Ireland. In its refusal of Ms Malcolm’s appeal, the Department of Health seemed to acknowledge that confusion could arise, and says that it might be anticipated that such an exemption might arise.
In the meantime, Elizabeth Malcolm remains locked down in the Crowne Plaza Hotel, while her family appeals for “common sense to prevail” and for their mother to be released . “I’m no threat to anyone,” she says. “I come from an almost Covid-free country, and I don’t have Covid, yet I’m like a prisoner here. I never thought this would happen to me in Ireland.”