Covid-19 advice sent by text to 1,511 arrivals from Brazil amid new strain

Up to four messages to be sent to each person advising them to self-isolate and arrange a test

Text messages in both English and Portuguese have been sent to 1,511 travellers who have arrived in Ireland from Brazil in the past 28 day advising that they self-isolate and arrange a Covid-19 test, the Department of Health has said.

Up to four text messages per person have started being sent out to arrivals from Brazil where a new strain of the Covid-19 virus has emerged in recent weeks. It follows the appearance of a more transmissible coronavirus strain in the UK and South Africa.

The Government is currently advising against “all travel to and from countries in South America” while the Minister for Health called on everyone who had arrived from Brazil over the past fortnight to contact their GP to organise a Covid-19 test free of charge and to restrict their movements.

A Department of Health spokeswoman underlined that all passengers arriving into the State were required to fill out a Covid-19 passenger locator form and to present evidence of a negative PCR test.

"In recent days a series of SMS text messages have been sent to 1,511 passengers people who arrived from Brazil in the last 28 days to bring this advice to their attention," she told The Irish Times. "These text messages were sent in both English and Brazilian Portuguese. The recent arrivals will receive up to four text messages in the 14-day period following their arrival to Ireland."

Luz Pereira, a member of the Irish branch of Women of Brazil group, said the Government should use social media to inform travellers from Brazil of the updated Covid-19 advice, adding that the Irish Brazilian community relies heavily on Facebook for updates on the pandemic. Ms Pereira flew to Brazil in late December following the death of a family member and returned to Ireland last Friday. She is currently self-isolating and has arranged to take a Covid-19 test. She said airport officials did not ask where she had flown from upon arrival in Dublin but that she has received text messages in English and Portuguese advising that she quarantine following her travels and organise a test.

There is still a lot of confusion around Covid-19 health advice among migrant communities, particularly when people are relying on updates from both their country of origin and Irish media, she said. Migrant frontline workers also remain very nervous about contracting the virus, she adds. “People we’re speaking to aren’t getting the assurances they need that everything is going to be ok. Not everyone is receiving the protective equipment they need and people are very nervous.”

Paulo Azevedo Ribeiro, deputy head of mission at the Brazilian embassy in Dublin, said posting Covid-19 updated advice on Facebook was “very effective” but that embassy officials were also using WhatsApp groups, telephone calls, email and contacting community groups to get the message out. “Strictly following restrictions and health recommendations are in everyone’s mind, there is no doubt about it,” Mr Azevedo Ribeiro said. “Everyone we’ve spoken to is very committed and engaged.”

Valeria Aquino, Integration Officer with the Immigrant Council of Ireland who also runs the Association of Brazilian Families in Ireland, says language schools and student unions must also play a role in disseminating information among students.

“Most Brazilians here are language students and their first point of connection is their school. I think focusing on getting information out through schools and the international language students union is the most efficient way.”

Ms Aquino agrees that migrant communities can become confused by mixed health messaging around Covid-19 coming from Ireland and their country of origin. “There’s plenty of online information and media groups but it’s hard to know which is the reliable one. That can be a big challenge. And the longer you stay here the more you feel you should be connected to the national media so you know what’s going on.”

Ms Aquino says Brazilians in Ireland have been hit “really hard” by the virus given that so many work in frontline roles such as retail and childcare. “A lot of people have come to us looking for basic information like where they can get food or how to access the health system. We’ve also had a lot of cases of domestic violence and women trying to access these services without fluent English. All of this makes the Covid situation harder for migrants.”