New international travel restrictions are being imposed following advice from Nphet.
Why are so many healthcare workers and scientists in favour of these new rules or even tighter restrictions?
Politicians who have reservations about broader hotel quarantine for arrivals have stressed the low percentage of Covid-19 cases categorised as “travel” cases.
However, this is not a true reflection of how many cases are in Ireland due to travel.
Take a woman who travels to Kent for work from Tipperary. She is diagnosed with Covid-19 on her return and categorised as a “travel case” by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC).
She transmits the virus to her housemate, this person is also a “travel case” but anyone the second person gives the virus to is not, according to the HPSC guidelines.
This is a medical convention and done for all infectious diseases.
And while numbers arriving at Irish airports have plummeted compared to a normal year, travel is continuing.
Between 1 December and 11 January, there were 183,991 passenger arrivals at Dublin and Cork airports, including 119,280 from the EU/EEA, 38,533 from the UK and 26,178 from other places.
The gold standard test is PCR (polymerase chain reaction). We talk about a “negative test” and the relief felt when getting this result. But one test may not be enough to detect the virus if someone is newly infected, it is a snapshot in time.
In December anyone travelling from Britain was advised to restrict movements for five days until receiving a negative PCR result, later shifting to 14 days isolation.
Anecdotal evidence indicates many people did this although we don’t know how many did.
But as we now know the UK variant has a transmissibility rate up to 70% higher than the original virus, if only a small number did not follow advice combined with increased socialising, the impact was devastating.
This brings us to fears around the speed of the vaccine roll-out and how they will act against new variants.
The evidence so far is in our favour. This month Moderna and Pfizer indicated their vaccine is effective against the UK strain but testing continues to measure protection for the South African strain and to confirm all the findings. Moderna may develop a booster shot.
Nurses onwards already feel they are in a race to get vaccinated ahead of the virus. Obstacles emerging in the EU deal with two major companies indicate however the roll-out may slow.
People calling for tighter restrictions hope fewer cases or variants coming in would mean fewer new patients and time gained for the vaccination programme.
Timing comes up again and again in international reports. A study published in The Lancet public health journal this month noted: “Countries should consider local Covid-19 incidence, local epidemic growth, and travel volumes before implementing such restrictions.”
Irish residents were advised last summer not to go abroad, but enough did that an estimated 60% of the second wave cases were linked to a Spanish variant.
Will the same happen again if there are no restrictions?