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People who arrived in Ireland from Britain since 8 December under 'enhanced surveillance'

Dr Colm Henry said NPHET will “be looking at enhanced surveillance of these passengers coming in”.

File photo of passengers at Dublin Airport
File photo of passengers at Dublin Airport
Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

PEOPLE WHO HAVE travelled from Britain to Ireland since 8 December are likely to be under “enhanced surveillance” due to concerns over a new strain of Covid-19 that has been identified there.

Dr Colm Henry, the HSE’s Chief Clinical Officer, said he is unsure of how many people who have come to Ireland from Britain in recent weeks have since tested positive for the virus.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Henry said NPHET will meet today and will “be looking at enhanced surveillance of these passengers coming in”.

Around 30,000 people have come from Britain to Ireland since 8 December. The HSE yesterday issued updated advice for these people, who are now asked to self-isolate for 14 days regardless of their Covid-19 test result.

Previously, those returning from England, Scotland or Wales were advised that they could stop restricting their movements if they received a negative PCR test result five days or more after their arrival.

More than 20 flights into Ireland from London in the first three weeks of December contained at least one passenger who subsequently tested positive for Covid-19, the Irish Examiner reported today.

Henry said the personal locator forms filled out by people when they enter Ireland will be used to contact them to ensure they are aware of the new guidance and where they can be tested.

“We are actively following up all cases, now what we want to do is make sure all those individuals know this enhanced public health advice that they must self-isolate rather than just restrict movements, in order so we can prevent transmission of this much more transmissible variant,” Henry stated. 

Speaking on Monday, Director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory Dr Cillian De Gascun said there is not yet any “hard evidence” that the new strain circulating in the UK is more infectious than other strains.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has said there is a lack of evidence on the new strain to date but it has an estimated potential to increase the reproductive number (R) by 0.4 or greater, and is estimated to be 70% more transmissible than previous strains.

‘Incredibly harsh advice’ 

Speaking on the same programme, Transport Minister Eamon Ryan said the new guidance is “very tough advice, but we have to heed what they’re saying, that is coming from our public health officials”.

Ryan said the recent spike in cases in Ireland – 970 cases and 13 deaths were reported yesterday – is “the reason why they’ve give such incredibly harsh and difficult advice for an all those who have come in since 8 December”.

“That’s their best assessment of what needs to be done to manage the situation,” he said, reiterating that passenger locator forms will be used to contact people.

There has previously been criticism of how little these forms have been used for contact-tracing purposes, and the lack of follow-up contact with people entering Ireland from abroad.

The Irish government first introduced a suspension on flights and passenger ferries from Britain on Sunday night for an initial 48-hour period. This has since been extended until at least 31 December.

‘Dire predictions’

The new strain of the virus has not yet been detected in Ireland but Henry said we should act as if it is already here.

He said the recent increase in cases is “unexpected growth beyond the most dire of modelling predictions based on last week”.

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“We can speculate as to whether or not this new strain is already here and has contributed to that growth, in a way, it doesn’t matter.

“It’s a message to all of us that now with unmitigated community transmission and growth of this virus, we must buckle down on those measures we know breaks down transmission of this.”

The first Covid-19 vaccines in Ireland will be administered on 30 December, the health minister confirmed yesterday.

About 10,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine are expected to be delivered on St Stephen’s Day.

“This is the one beacon of hope we can offer to people, and there’s no evidence that this new strain is resistant to the vaccine,” Henry said.

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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