The UK should be included on the red list of countries requiring travellers to go into mandatory hotel quarantine (MHQ) given concerns over a spike in the Indian Covid variant there, a public health expert at University College Cork has said.
Professor of public health Ivan Perry said the “rapid uptick” in the B1617.2 variant of Covid-19 in the UK must be carefully monitored.
Applying MHQ as a temporary and precautionary measure would prevent a “nasty outbreak” of Covid among the young and unvaccinated population in Ireland, he said.
Prof Perry was commenting as the UK health minister confirmed on Monday that the number of cases of the Indian variant had almost doubled over the past week — from 1,313 last Thursday to 2,323 cases this week.
The Indian strain was recently categorised as a variant of concern and is believed to be more infectious and transmissible.
UK authorities have responded by increasing Covid testing in virus hotspots but some scientists have warned that the Indian variant will become dominant in a matter of days.
There are also concerns that the spike in the number of B1617.2 cases could hamper the UK’s plans to fully reopen next month and lead to a return of local lockdowns.
Including the UK on the MHQ list for travellers may only be required for a short period of up to four weeks, Prof Perry said: “Mandatory hotel quarantine needs to be considered even on a short-term basis until it is clear what is going to happen with the virus. It may be that in a matter of weeks that this will look better and we’ll be reassured.
“We need to watch the UK very carefully. We’re getting the virus under control but if we keep reseeding it from outside the country, in particular from a strain that may be even more transmissible than the BII7 variant, we have to be proactive.
“Public health isn’t about waiting for things to happen and then responding. It’s about taking appropriate measures to prevent the worst-case scenario."
Prof Perry said resistance to Covid vaccines was not a key concern at this stage but risks remain given that the country is further behind in the rollout of vaccines.
“Our population is more vulnerable than the UK. We could still have a very nasty outbreak in our young and unvaccinated population. That’s the worry really,” he said.
The latest figures from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) show that 34 cases of the Indian B1617.2 variant have been confirmed in Ireland since April 4.
The majority of B1617.2 cases were detected in people aged 19-34 and cases to date have been linked to eight outbreaks involving between two and six cases.
In its latest report on Covid variants, the HPSC also confirmed that the UK B117 strain, which is now dominant in Ireland, was detected in the country much earlier than previously thought.
Through retrospective testing, one case of the B117 variant was detected as early as mid-September and another case in late October, indicating that the more infectious UK variant was circulating before December last year when a surge in cases presented.
There is no "conclusive" evidence to deviate from the roadmap out of lockdown despite concerns over the Indian coronavirus variant, prime minister Boris Johnson has said.
He has previously warned the rise in cases of the highly transmissible variant of concern could risk the next stage of England's roadmap out of lockdown, currently pencilled in for June 21, being delayed.
If outbreaks are limited, ministers could opt instead to push ahead with the reopening while keeping some areas under restrictions in an echo of the controversial tiers system introduced in 2020.
Mr Johnson said the "wall of defences" built up by the vaccination programme meant "I don't see anything conclusive at the moment to say that we need to deviate from the road map".
But, he added: "We've got to be cautious and we are keeping everything under very close observation.
"We'll know a lot more in a few days' time."
Asked whether local lockdowns could be used, Mr Johnson said: "We've just got to be cautious about the way we approach it and we will be letting people know as much as we can, as soon as we can.
"But at the moment we don't see anything conclusive that makes us think we have to deviate from the roadmap."