Data from the Department of Health has revealed that just under 6% of those forced into mandatory hotel quarantines had tested positive for Covid before the system was halted at the end of last month.
From March to October, more than 10,000 people stayed for ten days in the quarantine designated hotels, despite just 5.7% of individuals testing positive for Covid, according to the Department of Health.
It is believed that Gardaí were supplied with the names and passport photos of 175 people who escaped from the quarantine hotels and they managed to locate 35 of them and return them to the hotels. The state gave a contract to the Tifco hotel group to run the mandatory quarantine system.
The company accomodated the arriving passengers in its Crowne Plaza hotels in Blanchardstown and Santry, the Holiday Inn Express in Santry, as well as the Hard Rock Hotel on Exchange Street in Dublin city.
Passengers arriving in Ireland from countries deemed high-risk had to book and pay for a 12-night stay from a selection of the hotels mentioned above. The stay could then be reduced if a negative Covid test was received on day 10 of the quarantine. The cost of a 12-night stay was €1,875 (£1,614) for one person. At the height of the scheme, 60 countries were on the list of designated states.
In total, approximately 10,300 people were forced to stay for ten days in a designated quarantine hotel between March and September this year. The hotels were staffed 24 hours a day by private security staff, but they did not possess the legal power to prevent any guest who decided to leave. The Department of Health stated that some 170 people ran away from their hotels, while another five escaped from Dublin airport before they could be brought to a hotel
The state made it a criminal offence for an individual to leave mandatory quarantine without being authorised to do so, with the offender liable to be fined up to €2,000, be jailed for one month, or both.
Only 5.7% of people who were forced to quarantine in the designated hotels actually tested positive for Covid. Despite this, almost all guests remained in the quarantine hotels, with those who left accounting for only 1.7 per cent of the total guests.
Those staying in the quarantine hotels were tested before and during the course of their stay through regular PCR checks to ascertain whether or not they had Covid.
Just 596 out of 10,398 guests in quarantine tested positive for Covid, which was a positivity rate of just under 6%.
The scheme caused a substantial level of distress to some of those involved. In April, Gript reported on the case of a 74-year-old grandmother who felt like “a prisoner” in a “surprise” hotel quarantine in Dublin after travelling from New Zealand – a country which had almost no cases of Covid at the time and was not on Ireland’s “high-risk” countries list.
An emotional Elizabeth Malcolm 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.
She said 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.
Ms Malcolm was 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 during her stay, with no visitors allowed; even window visits were forbidden.
“I feel like a prisoner, ” the grandmother of two teenage boys said at the time. “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.”
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.
Speaking in April, she said: “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.”
Ms Malcolm said she twice appealed the decision to quarantine her to the authorities in Ireland, the restriction was not lifted.
“Being locked up in a room on my own with absolutely no-one to talk to – 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.”
The Department of Health recorded 3,426 appeals. Of these, the vast majority were unsuccessful, with just 526 (15.35%) granted.
Despite opposition to the scheme, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health said the results were a clear indication that the strict infection prevention and control measures in place in the quarantine hotels were effective in identifying and caring for positive cases as well as stopping any further transmission.
With the Department of Health’s official data indicative of extremely low rates of infection to begin with, it is inevitable that the necessity of the scheme will be thrown into question, both because of the unavoidable toll it took on guests as well as the heavy financial cost.
Documents published on the state’s Etenders system estimates the potential value of the scheme to be a massive €22.4 million if it was extended to 12 months, with the two-month extension of Tifco’s contract from July 2021 to September 2021 costing €3.2 million. Earlier this month, the Department of Health stated that the full cost of operating the quarantine system will be determined once it has been fully wound down with the legislation to authorise it expiring on October 31.
In order to reintroduce mandatory hotel quarantine after October 31, the Department said that new legislation enacted by the Oireachtas would be required.