A stupendous success, says Stephen Donnelly:
Mandatory hotel quarantining has worked effectively Health Minister Stephen Donnelly says. He tells the Seanad that 4,616 people have entered hotel quarantine here, 178 tested positive for Covid-19 and 59 cases associated with variants of concern were detected.
— Mícheál Lehane (@MichealLehane) May 31, 2021
178 cases of Covid, out of 4,616 people detained. That works out at about three cases per day, for the duration of Mandatory Quarantine. Meanwhile, Ireland’s total case load has been about 400 or more per day for the duration of the Quarantine policy. Inward travel, in other words, has been responsible for less than 1% of detected cases.
In order to stop this 1% of cases, Ireland has adopted a policy which has crippled the aviation industry. Aviation, of course, is somewhat important, when you are an island nation.
But what about those variants of concern? Well, 59 out of the 178 were listed as “variants of concern”, but the problem is that of those 59, 47 cases were the B117 variant. The B117 variant is – wait for it – already the dominant strain of covid in Ireland. It was, you might recall, the variant responsible for the infamous “Christmas surge” when we all “lost the run of ourselves altogether”, or whatever.
Of course, to be fair, there is one argument in favour of Mandatory Quarantine which these numbers will not, and could not, possibly validate: That argument is that Quarantine deters travel. In other words, if you are a supporter of quarantine, you can say that without it, the total number of people coming into the country would be much higher, and therefore the total number of Covid cases coming into the country would be much higher, and therefore Quarantine has worked much better than the official figures might suggest.
The difficulty with that argument is that, as with most arguments for lockdowns and restrictions, it cannot be disproved. It is a lot like people saying “without lockdown we would have had ten thousand more deaths”. Without a time machine, and the ability to go back and change Government policy, we simply will never know. It is a claim people can make without any fear of being proven wrong.
The other difficulty is that although you can argue that the total number of covid cases entering the country might be higher without quarantine, it is very hard to argue that people with Covid would be disproportionately likely to come here without it. In other words, the fact that less than 1% of people coming in here tested positive would not be something you would expect to change, whether the total number of arrivals was 5,000 or 50,000. We would still expect, based on these numbers, a tiny number of people to test positive.
And, of course, none of this suggests that Mandatory Quarantine was proportionate. In other words: If you have the risk that 1% of people arriving to your country have Covid, is the smart thing really to lock everybody up for two weeks? We have already seen, time and again, the negative human consequences of this policy – people forbidden to visit dying fathers, and that sort of thing.
What is the massive difficulty, you wonder, with just requiring every entrant to Ireland to present the negative results of a PCR test taken in the past 24-48 hours? People who decline to do so, or who refuse to do so, can be quarantined if necessary. That’s a proportionate national security response. A very small number of covid-positive people might still make it through the net, because of contracting the infection after the test, but that is a small risk to take when the alternative, which we embraced, was to cripple an airline industry and imprison thousands of people without trial.
Anyway, it is too late now. The Government have already decided that Mandatory Quarantine was a massive success. All that it cost us was the goodwill of European Allies, and a devastating blow to our airline industry.
In typical Irish style, we can now expect it to be quietly wound down, over the coming months, victory having been declared.
Nobody will ever talk about how, on a cost benefit basis, it did not really work.