Don't ease Covid lockdown too soon, expert warns

Don't Ease Covid Lockdown Too Soon, Expert Warns
Dr Gabriel Scally calls for an all-island approach and stricter travel restrictions. Photo: PA
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Vivienne Clarke

A public health expert has warned that the Government cannot “take the foot off the brake” on Covid restrictions “any time soon.”

Dr Gabriel Scally told RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne that moving from Level 5 to Level 3 restrictions in December had not been a sensible decision.

While the recent slow reduction in the number of cases was good, but there was still a long way to go. “It will take a long time to get the numbers really down.”

There were serious questions about “how to take things forward” to keep the country safe for the rest of the year. Dr Scally said he supported a “zero Covid” policy, but that it would require a lot of planning now.

“You can’t tell what decisions politicians will take.”

The issues of the health and well-being of the public were not just about deaths and rise in numbers, but they were “extraordinarily important.”

The countries that had done the best were the ones that had kept the numbers “extraordinarily low” through strict restrictions, he said.

There was “a huge burden” on everyone to get the virus numbers down. “We don’t know when this is going to end,” he said.

Dr Scally called for an all-island approach to dealing with the pandemic and for stricter travel restrictions to be fully implemented.

Mandatory quarantine

On Wednesday evening, the Independent Scientific Advocacy Group (ISAG) for Covid in Ireland held a webinar on the case for an international travel quarantine.

Speaking at the event, public health specialist Prof Anthony Staines said many countries across Europe including Ireland are concluding that the only way to curb Covid-19 “is to bring this virus sharply under control” with tighter measures on isolation and mandatory quarantine

The Dublin City University academic predicted that if Ireland was not the first country in the European Union to pursue this course, Germany would be.

“Each country has to decide for itself what it wants to do. I have a sense across Europe that many are facing the same challenge that we’re facing and moving to the same conclusions. We need to bring this virus sharply under control. But they’re looking for someone to go first,” Prof Staines said.

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“If this is not done,” he added, “the consequences will be on all of our heads.” While the current scenario might appear to be overwhelming when it comes to cases, deaths, pressure on intensive care units and new variants, it should be stressed that “things are difficult but there are ways out”.

The response in all instances, he said, had to be intense public health measures including isolation and quarantine for those travelling between countries.

Dr Tomás Ryan, a neuroscientist at Trinity College Dublin, said international travel quarantines were shown to work in South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. “There is no question. We can do this and we have the hotel capacity,” he said.

There was “a false narrative” featuring in media coverage, he said, which suggested it could not be done in Ireland because of the importance of international travel to the economy. Research, however, indicated swift implementation minimised impacts and costs, while the ultimate benefits outweighed these, he added.

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