Covid-19: Current travel rules ‘will not stop’ all cases coming into State – Glynn

Nphet in favour of ‘any measure’ that could suppress the virus, says Deputy CMO

Dr Ronan Glynn: The ‘key thing’ is to reduce the number of people coming into the country in the coming weeks. Photograph: Oireachtas TV

Dr Ronan Glynn: The ‘key thing’ is to reduce the number of people coming into the country in the coming weeks. Photograph: Oireachtas TV

 

The current regime on international travel “will not stop” all cases of Covid-19 coming into the country, the State’s deputy chief medical officer has said.

Since last week, passengers arriving into the State must produce a negative PCR test from within 72 hours prior to travel. However, while failure to produce the result is a criminal offence, gardaí do not have the power to stop the person from continuing their journey into the State.

Speaking at a meeting of the joint Oireachtas health committee on Friday morning, Dr Ronan Glynn said the “key thing” is to reduce the number of people coming into the country in the coming weeks.

Asked if he believed mandatory quarantining should be introduced, Dr Glynn said Nphet’s stance is that all non-essential travel should be avoided, adding that the team was in favour of “any measure” that could suppress the virus to the level seen in June.

“Ultimately what we’re interested in is reducing all non-essential travel to the greatest extent possible. Mandatory quarantining is one potential solution there, there may be others. But ultimately, we want discretion removed so that as few people as possible that don’t need to be travelling are travelling,” he said.

“Travel continues to play a role in the transmission of this disease in this country and will make it more difficult to maintain suppression over time. The regime that’s there at the moment will not stop all cases coming into this country, no.”

Nphet had previously called for the implementation of mandatory quarantine for international travellers, Dr Glynn said, adding that the team was still in favour of the measure, though there could be other courses of action to which he is not privy.

There are growing concerns around the spread of three new variants of Covid-19 through travel, as figures show more than 3,000 people from South Africa and Brazil, and 37,000 from the UK flew into the State in the five weeks to January 11th.

Speaking about the new variants, Dr Glynn said the main concern with the British variant was its transmissibility. However, for the South African variant, and perhaps the Brazilian variant, there is “some very early evidence or suggestion” it may have an impact on reinfection and the efficacy of the current vaccines, he said.

Dr Glynn said it was in “all our interests” to do what we can to ensure equitable access to vaccines across all countries, in order to prevent other variants from evolving.

Speaking at the same meeting, health officials expressed concern about the “risk” posed to patients in acute hospitals, as a result of the impact the third wave has had on the hospital system.

Healthcare absences

Some 6,500 healthcare staff are unavailable for work due to either being Covid positive, or being designated a close contact of the Covid.

There are currently 336 critical care beds open, while the maximum number of beds in which a “reasonable quality of care” can be provided is 350.

Liam Woods, Director of Acute Hospitals, said the HSE is “very alert” to the risk this poses to patients.

“Clearly in a system where we have significant staff absence and very significant surge at high community infection, we are concerned about risk. We are working, and staff processing system, are working as best as possible to mitigate that risk, but it would be unrealistic to expect the same outcomes as in previous times.”

Vida Hamilton, National Clinical Advisor and Group Lead Acute Hospitals for the HSE, said they had trained over 1,600 non-critical care staff to support critical processes.

“We are in surge capacity and therefore we have to deploy different methods of staffing in order to ensure best care. We are very actively managing that situation. Is the care of the same standard? No,” she said.

The most recent figures state there are 120 outbreaks in acute settings and in the week of January 17th, there were 442 cases of hospital-acquired Covid-19, health officials said. Some 500 beds are closed, primarily due to staffing issues, Mr Woods added.

However, Mr Woods said they think we are “peaking around now” in terms of pressure on hospitals, though he acknowledges that the peak for ICU care will be later as there is a “lag” between the two.

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