Ireland

Ireland should get ‘epidemic under control’ before looking at foreign travel

Creating ‘green list’ of countries safe to go to is unrealistic, says Prof Sam McConkey

 Passengers at Dublin Airport prepare for their trips. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Passengers at Dublin Airport prepare for their trips. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Ireland should get its “own epidemic under control” before it looks at air bridges and foreign travel, a leading professor in infectious diseases has said.

Current Government advice is that all non-essential foreign travel should be avoided, and it will be discussed early next week how travel could resume safely by looking at whether overseas countries could be put on a “green list” if they have low levels of infection.

In recent days, health officials have said they are “very concerned” by overseas travel, with foreign travel accounting for about 17 per cent of new cases, compared with about 2 per cent of cases in previous weeks.

Sam McConkey, from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, said adding a “green list” of countries was an “unrealistic, hypothetical suggestion” because many countries that have eliminated the virus will not let Irish people enter due to the prevalence of the virus in the State.

“This theoretical idea of air bridges and green countries makes sense theoretically but before we start that, we have to really start to get our own house in our order, get our own epidemic under control and then find other countries who also have their epidemic under control,” Prof McConkey said on RTÉ Radio One’s Saturday with Cormac Ó hEadhra.

“What does an outbreak look like when it’s over? What is the definition of an epidemic being over in a country? That’s really no cases for twice the maximum incubation period, we know it’s 14 days incubation period maximum, so 28 days with no cases in our country and then we all take a big sigh of relief and then any other country that has reached that we would say we could safely fly back and forth.”

The green list had been expected to be published next week but sources told The Irish Times this would be postponed until July 20th.

The British government on Friday published a list of 59 countries to which people can travel without facing quarantine when they return to England, but Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have not agreed to lift the quarantine rules.

New Zealand

Prof McConkey used the example of New Zealand which has “controlled this virus”, but will not allow tourists from Ireland to enter the country due to the presence of Covid-19 in the State.

He added that giving clarity on what would happen in three weeks’ time was “not realistic” because of how volatile the virus was.

“Catalonia now has an outbreak, Leicester is on lockdown, Lisbon is in lockdown . . . We’ve heard California, Florida and 38 other states in the United States of America now have rapidly increasing rates where it’s hard to control so it’s very difficult [to predict],” he added.

Prof McConkey advocated for the idea of a “staycation” this summer for members of the Irish public.

“The Department of Foreign Affairs advice is very, very clear and it says no non-essential travel outside the island of Ireland. Heather Humphreys brought this idea of a staycation. I’m booked for west Cork and I think that’s what most of us should be doing,” he added.

Speaking on the same programme, Fine Gael TD and Minister of State for Retail Businesses Damien English said the Government was due to meet on Monday to discuss overseas travel.

“Around travel and restrictions and quarantine, that’s going to the full Cabinet on Monday. Every effort is being made here for two issues. One is the public health and to give confidence to people from this country and travelling into this country. The aim is at some stage, be it Monday or at a later stage, to have a list of countries that are safe to travel to and from,” he added.

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