Spread of Indian variant leaves Irish quarantine system 'ineffective'

Spread of Indian variant leaves Irish quarantine system 'ineffective'

In advice to the HSE, the Health Information and Quality Authority raised concerns around the current system, adding that an 'important aspect' of the process is reducing the risk of introducing variants of concern into Ireland. File picture: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

The current quarantine system in Ireland may be “ineffective” due to increasing levels of the Covid-19 Delta variant in the UK, the health watchdog has warned.

Under current rules, members from designated countries are required to enter mandatory hotel quarantine for 14 days at a cost of €1,875 per adult.

However, individuals travelling from non-designated countries, of which the UK is one, can quarantine at home and if they test negative five days after their arrival, they are no longer required to quarantine.

In advice to the HSE, the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) raised concerns around the current system, adding that an “important aspect” of the process is reducing the risk of introducing variants of concern (VOCs) into Ireland.

“Due to the high volume of travel between Ireland and the UK (which is currently non-designated), the current system may be ineffective given the increasing prevalence of the Delta variant in the UK.” 

That variant now accounts for 91% of the UK's Covid cases.

As of Tuesday, there have been 126 cases of the Delta variant, formerly known as the Indian variant, or B1617.2, notified in the Republic.

Hiqa highlighted the need to better understand where passengers are coming from in order to mitigate the potential risk of importing VOCs from non-designated states.

“Currently, there are a number of issues associated with passenger locator forms due to data accuracy, coverage and usability,” Hiqa said.

It called for "better coordination" across Government departments and agencies to better manage and monitor mandatory home quarantine.

Hiqa also said the apparent low uptake of free post-arrival testing in Ireland is “concerning”.

It is unclear whether passengers are adhering to quarantine requirements and the low uptake of testing may be an indication of low adherence. 

"However, the absence of evidence cannot be assumed to mean a lack of adherence,” the report says.

Delta variant cause for concern

The Delta variant is a cause for concern due to its increased transmissibility and reports that vaccines may be less effective on the strain.

World Health Organisation’s Europe director Dr Hans Kluge warned on Thursday that the variant is “poised to take hold in the region”.

In Northern Ireland, the Department of Health has confirmed it will reduce the interval between the two doses of the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines from 10 to 12 weeks to a “maximum of eight weeks”.

The step is in a bid to offer better protection against the variant, the department said, in response to the increasing prevalence of the strain.

Here, the HSE has also said it will begin reducing the gap between AstraZeneca doses from Monday to eight weeks from 12 on a graduated basis. About 420,000 people will receive their vaccine sooner than originally planned.

Meanwhile, Dr Rose Fitzgerald, specialist in public health has warned a delay in the reopening of indoor dining could be on the cards in Limerick due to the rising case count.

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