In New Zealand they call them ‘managed isolation centres’. It’s where you have to go for 14 days when you arrive in the small island nation in the Pacific Ocean. There are certain exemptions from the mandatory stays in the isolation centres but for the most part the rules apply to New Zealanders and foreigners alike.
Not only do you have to stay in a State-commandeered hotel for a fortnight you also have to pay $3,100 (€1,836) for the experience – and that doesn’t include the extra charges for bringing a partner or kids. During your stay you are tested for Covid-19 three times and only then released once all are clear.
Does it work? Well, it was big news in New Zealand the other day when one single Covid-19 case was detected in the community. It was the first since November. The previous month around 12,000 attended a concert where social distancing was not even a consideration.
The Zero Covid debate is now front and centre amongst our own political leaders. Not for the first time, mind. A quarantine proposal from Nphet was brought before Cabinet last May by previous Health Minister Simon Harris but it was shot down for a myriad of reasons ranging from the Northern Ireland border, European solidarity and civil rights concerns.
It never happened and the idea was parked until the new deadlier variants of the virus emerged and put unmanageable pressure on the health service. Now the Cabinet is being asked to consider a range of new regulations aimed at discouraging people from leaving or coming to Ireland.
They want to make it so “goddamn awkward that you won’t be bothered” travelling to Ireland as the Taoiseach put it. So there will be quarantine for those who arrive without a negative Covid test but not for all passengers arriving in our airports.
The Cabinet is also looking at new fines and the threat of imprisonment for not restricting your movements at home if you fly into the country. They’ll say not that many people fly into the country without a negative test but Nphet says the current testing system misses about 40pc of Covid cases anyway.
The opposition is banging the Zero Covid drum in unison at the moment. Until recently it was only Paul Murphy and Róisín Shortall who were pushing hard for Zero Covid.
But now the political momentum to close down the country’s border is growing and in the fifth week of the third national lockdown you can be sure there is increasing public support for a solution which lead to some form of normality.
The EU has even discussed closing off the block to international travel. As ever, Northern Ireland is a problem as it leaves a gaping hole in any plans to seal the Border but surely leaders on both sides have a shared interest in stopping their citizens dying in their dozens on a daily basis.
The Government’s political capital is all but spent and a pandemic-weary public will grow more frustrated if travel restrictions are not strict enough to prevent further spread of new variants into the country. How do you tell the public it is OK to close entire industries for a year when you won’t quarantine people jetting into the country for non-essential reasons?
Guidance and advice on international travel just doesn’t cut it any more.