Ireland will only allow travellers inoculated from an approved list of four Covid-19 vaccines to avoid hotel quarantine.
Any traveller who has received two doses of the vaccines developed by AstraZeneca, Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech and Janssen will be allowed to quarantine at home for a minimum of 10 days, saving €1,875 ($2,255) on the cost of a hotel stay.
Travellers with babies no more than 28 days old can also quarantine at home.
All travellers applying for the exemption will need to show a negative Covid-19 test result.
Teachers and other workers in the Emirates were among those calling on the Irish government to make exceptions for people who were fully vaccinated.
Ireland’s Department of Health said on Monday its list of vaccines aligned with those approved by the European medicines regulator.
“Following updated advice from the Government’s Expert Advisory Group on Travel, Ireland’s Minister for Health has amended the regulations governing mandatory hotel quarantine so that an additional exemption now applies where a person can prove they are fully vaccinated against Covid-19,” it said.
“However, only vaccines which are approved by the European Medicines Agency are acceptable in order to qualify for this exemption. The Sinopharm vaccine is not currently one of those vaccines.”
The National is awaiting a response from officials on how many exemptions have been approved since the scheme came into force on Saturday.
The EMA began a rolling review of Sputnik V in March, paving the way for the vaccine to be approved if clinical trials are successful.
Irish expats in UAE left disappointed
The move will disappoint passengers from some countries who use alternative vaccines such as the China-made Sinopharm and Russia’s Sputnik V.
The UAE, Bahrain, Hungary and Indonesia are among countries that use Sinopharm and Sputnik V as part of their vaccine drives.
Dubai resident Ciara White, who is inoculated with Sinopharm’s vaccine, said the decision not to exempt all inoculated travellers had huge consequences for Irish citizens abroad.
“I’m desperate to get home this summer with my teenage daughters to see my parents,” she said.
“It’s not a holiday but a chance to spend quality time with them, give them a long-awaited boost from being in lockdown in Ireland for so long. And to give some practical support to my parents as they have been relying on neighbours and friends to support them over the past year.”
Last week it was reported by Reuters that a decision by WHO on a seal of approval for Sinopharm would be made by the end of April or start of May.
“I guess all we can hope for is that either UAE comes off the red list or that the EMA approves Sinopharm,” said Ms White, from County Cork.
Clare Murphy, who works at American University of Sharjah, insisted that expats were not opposing the idea of quarantine, only urging the Irish government to let travellers spend 10 days in their own home.
“Having to quarantine when we arrive in Ireland is sad considering we have been vaccinated and followed all the necessary steps and guidelines,” she said.
“I hope this vaccine (Sinopharm) will be recognised before we travel or that the health authorities in Ireland would allow us to quarantine at home in our own personal property.”
Irish hotel quarantine - in pictures
Greg Kane, who works in FinTech in Dubai, has a house lying empty in Dublin.
“It is so arbitrary to make us stay in a hotel," he said of hotel quarantine.
“We stayed there last year to quarantine and didn’t step outside for 14 days. I don’t know why we can’t do that again.”
Mr Kane said he was even considering trying to take another vaccine - Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca are also now available in Dubai under certain requirements - in the hope of meeting Ireland’s requirements.
“The real question is it safe to get another vaccine so soon after taking one already?” he said.
Dr Amgad El Kholy, a epidemiologist in WHO’s Middle East office, urged people to think twice about receiving different vaccines within a short space of time, especially without consulting a doctor.
“This practice is not recommended by WHO,” he said.
“A person should receive two doses of the same vaccine without alternating between two different vaccines.”
He said that a decision by WHO on the status of Sinopharm would be made soon.
“The manufacturer has submitted the full documented file to WHO,” he said.
“It’s now under thorough review for final assessment and the vaccine should be licensed soon for emergency use listing.”
Hungary is the only EU country to use Sputnik V but others including Germany have said they would distribute the shot if it is approved by the regulator.
The Irish government had been under pressure to modify its hotel quarantine system after a series of legal challenges in the High Court.
Dubai resident Emma Kelly, who is vaccinated with AstraZeneca’s drug, last week secured her release from the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Dublin after launching legal action.
In a significant intervention, the EU on Friday criticised the scheme for curtailing the right to freedom of movement across the bloc for European citizens.
The 12-day quarantine controls apply to five EU member states – Austria, France, Italy, Belgium and Luxembourg.
EU spokesman Christian Wigand said the commission had sought clarification as to why the rules applied to some member states and not others.
“The commission believes that the objective pursued by Ireland, which is the protection of public health during the pandemic, could be achieved by less restrictive measures,” he said.