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Health Minister says random testing at airports is to be introduced

Stephen Donnelly refused to be drawn on the impending decision on whether to allow pubs to reopen.

Fianna Fáil's Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly.
Fianna Fáil's Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly.
Image: Niall Carson/PA Images

Updated Aug 2nd 2020, 6:55 PM

HEALTH MINISTER STEPHEN Donnelly has said that random testing at Irish airports is to be introduced amid a “volatile” situation abroad.  

Donnelly said this action would go in tandem with “an increased public health presence” ant entry points in the country. 

Speaking on on RTÉ’s This Week programme, Donnelly also said that keeping the reopening of schools “on track” is the priority for government and that decisions may be taken to ensure that happens.

Donnelly suggested this could include the decision to keep pubs closed should the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) deem it necessary.

Speaking about the recent uptick in cases, Donnelly said that much of the outbreaks relate to several clusters but that there has been community transmission recorded in parts of Galway, Mayo, Cavan, Meath and Dublin. 

Community transmission occurs where an individual tests positive for the virus but it is not possible to determine from where the were infected.

Speaking about the situation globally, Donnelly said that it was “becoming more volatile” and that Ireland is to begin random testing at airports. 

“We’re introducing random testing at the airports and an increased public health presence. And we’re examining other options as well for further restrictions on non-essential travel because as you rightly say this the international situation is becoming more volatile,” he said. 

Pubs 

Pubs are schedule to reopen on 10 August, as part of Phase 4 of the government’s reopening, and a decision on whether to proceed on that timeline is set to be made next week.

Nphet will deliver its advice to government on this on Tuesday, coming amid a “concerning trend” of increasing Covid-19 infections in recent days. 

In the UK, health experts said yesterday that pubs may have to close again so schools can reopen.

Asked whether Ireland may have to choose between pubs or schools, Donnelly said he didn’t want to speculate but that some decisions will have to be taken. 

“I don’t want to make any comments on that because that is something for Nphet to come to me with a view on on Tuesday, but it is certainly the case that decisions could be made if Nphet deemed necessary in order to keep the opening of schools on track,” he said. 

“We have closely followed public health advice, both the previous government and this government, and that has served the country very well. So, I don’t want to prejudge what Nphet may decide. Certainly, the number one focus is getting the schools reopened,” he added.

Donnelly went on to say that he has sympathy for publicans but that the experience of other countries suggests that nightlife has a greater effect on Covid-19 infections than other types of societal activity. 

I asked exactly this question to the public health officials and what they said was, the international experience shows that when the pubs reopen the number of new cases goes up. What they found was that this doesn’t seem to be the case with restaurants, for example, which is why they advised that restaurants could open all these with the restrictions in place.

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“So the public health officials are concerned at what has happened in other countries. But the publicans are in a very, very difficult position, and I have huge sympathy with them and government has huge sympathy with them,” he added. 

 

Response

Responding to Donnelly’s comments on airport testing, Sinn Féin’s health spokesperson David Cullinane TD said his party had “consistently called” for its introduction. 

“I welcome this change in direction and it is important that we get clarity on exactly what is being proposed for both those departing and arriving at airports,” he said.

Labour’s Duncan Smith TD has said that any testing regime introduced at airports should be focused on high-risk countries. 

“With case numbers going up and palpable public nervousness on the rise it is welcome that the government will introduce random testing at airports,” he said.

“However, the testing regime needs to be more comprehensive and the remit needs to be broadened to specifically target travels from high risk ‘Red List’ countries. Labour have consistently called for the government to introduce mandatory Covid-19 testing at airports and an enforced mandatory 14 day quarantine for air travellers coming from high risk areas.”

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Rónán Duffy

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