The booking system for mandatory hotel quarantine in Ireland has been paused due to capacity concerns.
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said the hotels were encountering a “high level” of walk-ins of people who had not booked in advance of travelling to Ireland from designated countries.
Mr Donnelly said the pause had been taken on a “precautionary basis” pending more hotel room capacity becoming available.
He said capacity was due to increase from rooms to 650 rooms to 960 from next Monday, with an further increase to 1,300 plus rooms from the following week.
Mandatory quarantine for travellers arriving from countries deemed high risk was introduced last month as part of the Government’s efforts to prevent a resurgence of Covid-19 in the country.
“The department is operating on a precautionary principle,” Mr Donnelly told RTE One.
“The hotel quarantine system has only been in place for 18 days, believe it or not. We have gone from 33 countries up to I think it’s 71 countries now. On a precautionary basis the department has paused the bookings to make sure we have the capacity.”
“There is still a high level of walk-ins which shouldn’t be happening.”
The minister said some airlines were allowing people to travel despite them not having pre-booked a mandatory 12-night stay at quarantine hotel accommodation in Ireland.
He said Transport Minister Eamon Ryan was engaging with airlines on the issue.
Earlier, it emerged that the Government was seeking advice on whether fully vaccinated people could avoid facing mandatory hotel quarantine.
The Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris said it was his “firm view” that anyone who has been vaccinated against Covid-19 should not be forced to quarantine.
Mr Harris said the system should be prioritised to those most at risk, particularly around new variants.
The operation of Ireland’s hotel quarantine system has proved a divisive issue.
There have been a number of court challenges to the legality of the system.
Mr Harris said forcing fully vaccinated people into quarantine was “illogical”.
“Mandatory hotel quarantine is a short, sharp, crude, blunt intervention. It’s not something we want to see in Ireland forever,” Mr Harris told Today with Clare Byrne programme.
“I would really to see the Government expediate this issue of people being vaccinated – there are people in their 30s who have been vaccinated in the US – I don’t want to see a situation where our students are coming back fully vaccinated from the US to go into two weeks of quarantine. That seems illogical to me.”
Asked whether he believes those who are fully vaccinated should be exempt from quarantine, Mr Harris replied that was his “very firm view”.
“What the Government has committed to doing is looking at that with our medical experts,” he added.
“We need to prioritise mandatory hotel quarantine which I think is necessary – prioritise it to those most at risk of bringing it into our country, particularly new variants.
“It’s hard to illogically explain how fully vaccinated (people) are of greater risk than you or I.”