Advice on international travel could have saved lives if heeded last year

Advice on international travel could have saved lives if heeded last year

Last May, Nphet advised the Government to introduce tighter travel restrictions. This could have saved lives, the Independent Scientific Advocacy Group has said. File picture.

Some people lost to Covid-19 could have been saved if tighter travel restrictions were imposed last year as advised by Nphet, according to public health experts.

On May 8, 2020, chief medical officer Tony Holohan wrote to then health minister Simon Harris, warning of the risk of importing the virus through Irish residents going abroad or arrivals from other countries.

He recommended: “a mandatory regime of self-isolation for 14 days at a designated facility for all persons arriving into Ireland from overseas (with limited exemptions to include supply chain workers and those in transit to other jurisdictions, such as Northern Ireland)".  

The letter also called for “restrictions of non-essential travel from all countries other than EEA countries and the UK (with exemptions to include Irish citizens or residents)". 

“Fewer people would have died,” said Professor Gerard Killeen, AXA research chair in Applied Pathogen Ecology at UCC, and a member of the Independent Scientific Advocacy Group (ISAG).

We would have been able to lock in the benefits of our lockdown over the summer and brought our pandemic to an end in time for the start of school term.” 

And he warned the situation has not changed.

“We face the same choices now to hold the fort until we get full population coverage with vaccines and can be sure they do all the things we need them to do for long enough,” he said.

During the summer as people thought the virus was waning, a study led from Switzerland was tracking a Spanish variant. They found it represented 60% of Irish genome sequences as the second wave of the virus hit.

Similar studies this month by the National Virus Reference Laboratory indicate 58% of samples contain the UK variant, Nphet said on Thursday.

Right now, the risk from the UK variant is “high/very high” the European Centre for Diseases Prevention and Control said in its latest update. It mentioned the increase in cases in Ireland and hospitalisations in its evidence of increasing transmissibility.

Another member of ISAG, Professor Ivan Perry, said: “We have utterly failed to exploit the fact that we are an island. 

We acted as an island when we had an outbreak of foot and mouth in the early 2000s. If we could do it then, we ought to be able to do it now.” 

He said New Zealand has suffered significant damage to the tourism industry but supports can be given. 

It has been suggested quarantine can offer some support to hotels.

Between 1 December and 11 January, there were 183,991 passenger arrivals at Dublin and Cork airports broken down as arrivals from EU/EEA 119,280, UK 38,533, and other countries at 26,178.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said on Friday: "The Government continues to advise against non-essential international travel. 

"Passengers travelling to Ireland, with limited exemptions, are subject to legal requirements to complete a COVID-19 Passenger Locator Form and to present evidence of a negative/not detected result from a pre-departure PCR test for COVID-19 taken no less than 72 hours before travel."

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From florist to fraudster, leaving a trail of destruction from North Cork, to Waterford, to Clare, to Wexford and through the midlands ... learn how mistress of re-invention, Catherine O'Brien, scammed her way around rural Ireland.

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