The reservation system for the state’s mandatory hotel quarantine system will not accept bookings until next Monday.
The latest available figures suggest that there was significant capacity available in the system last Friday, prior to the recent expansion of the list of countries eligible for mandatory hotel quarantine.
The Health department did not respond to questions about the current capacity level, why the system was not accepting bookings, and the operational impact of the current capacity level.
Government sources said the Ministry of Health said additional capacity will be available starting Thursday when 16 additional countries are added to the list of high risk locations that require hotel quarantine.
Last Friday, 56.3 percent of the capacity was still available in the system, and 271 rooms were occupied and 344 people were quarantined. When the plans to expand the system were signed, ministers were informed that 959 rooms would be available by April 19 and 1,147 rooms by April 26.
However, there are significant concerns in the government that there will not be enough rooms and that there will either be queues of people trying to get into the country or that people might travel to Belfast or London before moving on to the state .
It is assumed that meetings were held on Tuesday afternoon, attended by several actors involved in the system from different government departments.
Earlier it emerged that the government had asked the Health Protection Surveillance Center to examine whether fully vaccinated people could be exempted from the mandatory hotel quarantine.
It comes as Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris said it was his “very firm view” that fully vaccinated individuals who had negative PCR tests should not be quarantined in a hotel.
Government sources said the HPSC would deliberate on the matter for the next two to three weeks.
It is understood that there is a push of Fine Gael The ministers in particular, so that fully vaccinated people can be exempted from the mandatory hotel quarantine.
Since last week there have been a number of legal challenges to the mandatory hotel quarantine.
Health Department officials are believed to have raised questions about how these passengers would prove they were vaccinated at a time when the EU Green Pass or Travel Pass system is still being considered.
But some within the government argue so Ireland has been asking for evidence of a negative PCR test for months and there is no international standard certificate for this.
On Tuesday, Mr Harris said quarantining vaccinated people “seems illogical,” he told RTÉ Radios Today with the Claire Byrne Show.
Compulsory hotel quarantine is a “short, sharp and blunt tool,” and the government has committed to discussing with health professionals the need for fully vaccinated people to go to hotel quarantine, he said.
During a meeting of the Oireachtas Health Committee, Fine Gael TD Colm Burke asked acting Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ronan Glynn of the prospect that international travelers can avoid quarantine if they can provide clear evidence that they have been vaccinated.
Mr Glynn said that a very small proportion of the people here and internationally have been fully vaccinated.
He said, “Even if they are fully protected, we still don’t have enough information on transmission.”
Mr. Glynn added, “Even if they are fully protected from the variant we currently have here, we do not yet have enough information and, in fact, we are seeing increasing cases of breakthrough infections with other variants in people who have been vaccinated internationally.
“There is also the question of whether we could have a system that properly authenticates vaccine certificates.”
Mr. Glynn said, “None of this is insurmountable” and “none of this is forever.”
He said the epidemiological situation in the EU, for example, was improving and that there was a proposal for an EU-wide system of vaccination certification.
“I think we’re all going in the right direction, but it will be a few weeks before we get there.”
When asked about Niac’s decision to discontinue the use of AstraZeneca For people under the age of 60, Mr. Harris said he was not qualified to “guess” Niac, but it should not be overlooked that the decision would be upheaval.
However, it was confirmed by comments from acting Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ronan Glynn and Prof. Dr. Karina Butler von Niac that the decision will not affect the long-term rollout of the vaccine.
It has always been important that concerns are addressed and that Niac’s caution gives people confidence.
If AstraZeneca had been the only vaccine available, the decision to break would not have been made, he said. “We have to take advantage of the offer that we can best use.”
The minister was “very excited” about the introduction of rapid antigen tests in a pilot project at a number of universities. It was his intention to “dramatically increase” the attendance of third grade students on campus from the new academic year starting in September / October.
Rapid tests were a “potential game changer” and could lead to outdoor gatherings. It made sense that his department should be involved, as research was also part of his mission. The results could benefit the whole country, he added.