Health officials to decide on India's inclusion in hotel quarantine says Transport Minister

The professor said the mandatory hotel quarantine system was proving effective in picking up cases and would help keep variants out of the country. 
Health officials to decide on India's inclusion in hotel quarantine says Transport Minister

Members of the Defence Forces have been escorting arrivals into mandatory hotel quarantine. Picture: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

The Transport Minister has said the Government will let public health officials decide if India should go on the mandatory hotel quarantine list.

There are concerns surrounding the discovery of three cases here of a variant of covid first detected in India.

However, it is unclear yet whether this variant is more transmissible or more serious.

It follows comments from Liam Fanning, Professor of Immunovirology at University College Cork (UCC) who said that India should be added to the list of countries for which mandatory hotel quarantine is necessary.

Eamon Ryan said public health officials will decide if India should be on the quarantine list.

"We are going to have to take countries in and out quite frequently, countries coming off the list as well as on the list. 

"If we all started having opinions on that then Lord knows it will be very complex. 

"We have to take their advice on that. It's complex analysis that they have to do on the variants, and they'll make that call. 

"And they haven't been shy about doing that so far and so I don't expect they will on this occasion," said Minister Ryan. 

Vaccine optimism

Prof Fanning is optimistic however that the vaccine programme would offer protection from the new Indian variant which had been deemed “of interest”.

Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast, he said that being vaccinated meant

Members of the Defence Forces meet passengers arriving from Istanbul this afternoon, after Turkey became one of the new countries subject to mandatory hotel quarantine. Picture: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin
Members of the Defence Forces meet passengers arriving from Istanbul this afternoon, after Turkey became one of the new countries subject to mandatory hotel quarantine. Picture: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

that a person was “not starting from zero” in terms of immunity and that vaccines offered a level of protection.

The mandatory hotel quarantine system was also proving effective in picking up cases and would be helpful in keeping variants out of the country, he said.

Viruses change all the time, he explained, which was why the flu vaccine was changed every year. Being vaccinated offered a level of protection and immunity, he said.

“Get the vaccines into our arms so we can be better protected as a nation,” he said.

From 'interest' to 'concern'

Gerald Barry, an assistant professor of virology at UCD later told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland that the Indian variant, while one of interest at present, was likely to become one “of concern” as more data emerged.

The UCD professor said the UK was being relied upon for data internationally as they were conducting more in depth sequencing and had identified four different changes in the spike protein in the Indian variant, which was a collection of mutations that had not been seen before.

Prof Barry said that the recent surge in cases of Covid-19 in India was cause for concern as sequencing in that country was not good and reporting of case numbers was not accurate and had been under reported. 

That was going to drive the Indian variant, which he predicted would become as concerning as the Brazilian and South African variants.

Variants inevitable

It was inevitable that variants were going to emerge, but it was important that the public not “freak out” every time they heard this as “they are going to hear of lots (of variants).” 

While there was concern that new variants could be more easily transmitted and could be vaccine resistant, the best way to stop transmission was to keep case numbers as low as possible, he said.

The virus changed itself every time it replicated, so the more people were vaccinated the less likely the variant was to change and get stronger. This meant it was important to roll out the vaccine programme as quickly as possible, he said.

“We need to keep using the same tactics to keep case numbers down, not just in Ireland, but across the world,” said Prof Barry. 

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