Talks are due to take place later this week between officials and ministers on a controversial proposal to extend the list of countries on the mandatory hotel quarantine list. 

The discussions will focus on the capacity of the hotels, whether there are sufficient staff and the legality of extending the list to more EU countries. 

Last week there was a political row over a proposal from the Government's Travel Expert Advisory Group, which recommended adding the US, France, Germany and Italy to the list.

Plans to add those countries to the list were shelved but 26 others were included.

From 4am tomorrow, people arriving in Ireland from these countries and territories must pre-book accommodation for 12 nights mandatory hotel quarantine on arrival and pay for the stay.

The length of stay can be reduced if a person receives a negative test for the virus on day ten of quarantine.

It is expected a new proposal could be brought to Cabinet on Wednesday of next week regarding the US, France, Germany and Italy.

Sources indicate one possibility is that officials will examine enhanced checks for people to home quarantine instead of mandatory hotel quarantine.

The meetings are expected to take place between officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Health on Wednesday and Thursday of this week.

It is also expected that there will be discussions between Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney.

There are also concerns that both New Zealand and Australia had to put a ceiling on the numbers allowed into mandatory hotel quarantine and that the system in Ireland may not have sufficient capacity to deal with large numbers of arrivals.

Figures show that 222 rooms have been occupied in mandatory hotel quarantine facilities in Dublin since the system came into operation last month.

The Department of Health said 149 of the rooms started being used in March, while so far this month, international travellers have entered 73 rooms.

The figures include a combination of pre-booked rooms and those booked by people on their arrival into the country, but it does not include the overall number of residents staying in the designated quarantine facilities.

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Dublin-based GP, Dr Ray Walley, warned that "all the good work to date on vaccines" will be pointless if we allow new variants into the country.

He told RTÉ's News At One that "we need vaccine levels built up here before any new variants arrive".

Dr Walley was speaking as a number of variants have been discovered abroad, at least one of which (reported in Brittany, France) may not be picked by a PCR test.

"All these variants can be transferred to this country by airline travel," he said.

The 26 new states on the mandatory hotel quarantine list are: Albania, Andorra, Aruba, Bahrain, Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba, Ethiopia, Israel, Jordan, Kosovo, Kuwait, Lebanon, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Nigeria, North Macedonia, Oman, Palestine, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Qatar, Saint Lucia, San Marino, Serbia, Somalia and Wallis and Futuna Islands.

The announcement brings to 59 the number of countries and territories deemed high risk by the Government.

Those already on the list include Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Chile, Mauritius, Rwanda, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates and Zimbabwe.

Travel expert calls for end to mandatory quarantine

A travel expert has said Ireland should be cutting the number of countries on the mandatory hotel quarantine list, not adding to it.

Editor of Air & Travel Magazine, Eoghan Corry, said: "It's absolutely important that we don't extend it to other countries" and he called for a date to be set for when the system will be ended.

He said: "The mandatory hotel quarantine for whole countries is a very blunt instrument" and called on the Government to "reverse out" of the policy.

Mr Corry said: "A huge amount of damage has been done by Covid-19 to our industry, to our exports, to our trade routes and to connectivity. Mandatory hotel quarantine is a completely self-inflicted new set of damage."

He added that "it is really important that we stop pandering to populism and set about putting measures in place that tackle Covid and not connectivity and travel."

Mr Corry said that Ireland is "an island at the centre of a major economic zone with the United States on one side and Europe on the other. Connectivity is everything we have built our recent prosperity on and we have dismantled that already to an alarming degree."

He said the decision to introduce mandatory hotel quarantine has "put into question three really important trade routes to Asia, through Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha."

Mr Corry added that "we have also sent a shudder through our three major air export routes through Chicago, Boston and New York, with the suggestion that the USA might be added to the list."

"And we have sent out a message to four of our six biggest inbound tourism markets that visitors are not welcome. Obviously in the short term that isn't that big a problem, but if we are sending out a long-term message, while the rest of the world recovers, that could come back to haunt us."

Mr Corry said he believes "there are lots of alternatives including more rigorous testing and drawing on the advances in technology" instead of hotel quarantining.

Additional reporting Fergal O'Brien