Tucked away to the rear of the Rosslare Europort building are two large green tents, flanked by several defence forces SUVs. The newly erected 'holding area' is evidence of the new quarantine system which came into play at all entrance points to Ireland on Friday - including the Wexford port.
Under the new rules, anyone arriving into Ireland from a list of 33 'high-risk' countries will be legally required to undertake a mandatory two-week quarantine at one of four Dublin hotels costing a minimum of €1,875. While it was reported that the old Hotel Rosslare had been looked at as a possible quarantine facility, this has not come to pass and anyone arriving at Rosslare who is required to quarantine will be brought to the capital.
Although Rosslare is unlikely to see too many people who have passed through the 33 countries, most of which are in South America and Africa, new rules also state that passengers arriving into the country without a negative PCR test taken a maximum of 72 hours before arrival, will be forced to wait in mandatory quarantine until they return a negative test.
This means that any passengers arriving in Rosslare, excluding truck drivers and crew, from France, Spain or the UK will be legally required to present a negative Covid test. If they don't, they'll be brought to the 'holding area' tents at the rear of the terminal building, where they will be tested before the defence forces bus them out to a mandatory quarantine facility in Dublin where they will pay at least €150 per day until a clear test is returned.
'This is all run by the Department of Health, the gardaí and the defence forces,' said Europort Manager Glenn Carr. 'We have the same system as Dublin Port and Cork. Passengers disembarking the ferries will be met by gardaí and customs as always, at which point they will have to present a negative PCR test. If they are unable to do that, they are brought to the holding area and the defence forces will transport them to the relevant quarantine facilities.
'Obviously Rosslare has no direct connection to the 33 high risk countries on the list. The only way we could come into contact with someone in that situation would be if they flew from one of those countries to France or Spain, for example, and got the ferry across.'
Since the beginning of the pandemic, 28 fixed charge penalty notices have been issued by gardaí for breaches of Covid regulations by passengers arriving at Rosslare.
Wexford Garda Chief Superintendent Denis Ferry said that, overall, compliance with PCR testing requirements at Rosslare had been good and that at the time of going to print, nobody had had to be brought from the port to Dublin for mandatory hotel quarantine.
'The volumes of passengers coming into Rosslare at the moment are very low,' he said. 'The vast majority of people coming in are 100% compliant. We've worked with the HSE and the defence forces in recent weeks to put the procedures in place for the introduction of mandatory hotel quarantine, but we expect that the numbers of passengers travelling will remain low and that those who do have a legitimate reason to travel will be well aware of the requirements. Basically, this just provides an extra layer of protection, but equally it's important that people know that from our point of view, we're doing our bit.
'Overall, things are running very smoothly in Rosslare. The biggest thing is freight. Of those passengers who do enter the country, most have valid and legitimate reasons.'
Chairman of Wexford County Council Cllr Ger Carthy had initially believed that the old Hotel Rosslare premises in the harbour was to be used as a mandatory quarantine facility and was critical of the council and locals being kept in the dark on plans.
'So the situation now is that the army will escort people who need to quarantine by bus,' he said. 'Initially it seemed like Hotel Rosslare was to be used, but that must've changed. Given the defence forces' involvement, I'm sure this will be done right. The numbers of passengers coming through are very small and it seems to be mainly trucks, which would be exempt.
'This whole quarantine situation is just a further example of an inept and chaotic lack of forward planning from the government though,' Cllr Carthy said. 'It's taken a year to get mandatory quarantine in place and when we do get it, it seems half-baked. It all seems to be soundbites. It seems to me that quite a few people in this government are asleep at the wheel.'