No commitment on lifting of 14-day quarantine for arrivals into country

‘No certainty’ coronavirus can be suppressed, warns chief medical officer

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said he could not give a commitment on when the 14-day quarantining requirement would be lifted on passengers arriving at Irish ports and airports.

He told the Dáil committee on Covid-19 that the public health advice was to “try and ensure that we limit travel from overseas”.

Dr Holohan was responding to Fine Gael TD Colm Brophy who said that as long as the quarantine advice remained in place “Ireland is in effective lockdown, which has huge implications for the commercial life of the leisure industry”.

He said it seemed contradictory to a lot of people that there was an open border with Northern Ireland “but you have people landing in Dublin airport with an effective 14-day lockdown, which will literally kill out tourism industry”.


Incubation period

Dr Holohan said, however, the reason the quarantine advice did not exist for travel on the island “is because in our assessment the island in broad terms is behaving as one”.

The public health advice “relates to our assessment of the potential incubation period of this virus. Fourteen days is pretty much an international consensus. Very few countries are at variance with that particular measure”.

Asked when it would be lifted, Dr Holohan replied “I couldn’t give a commitment in relation to that.

“No measures that we have recommended of this kind will be in place for any longer than we believe is necessary.

“It is simply too early to give an assessment, given . . . the state of infection on the island, Great Britain in the US and the rest of the world.”

Earlier the Dáil committee hear that a nurse who began work in a Dublin hospital a fortnight ago was not tested for coronavirus before starting the job and now has the virus.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett raised the case of an agency nurse and expressed concern at Ireland’s “much higher” rate of infection among health workers than other countries.

Dr Holohan had told committee that health workers accounted for 31.5 per cent of coronavirus cases but the rate of cases had reduced and staff were being prioritised for testing. Infection rates among staff was a “challenge”.

Mr Boyd Barrett asked “how on earth” that situation could arise

Dr Holohan agreed with him to publish the advice of Nphet (National Public Health Emergency Team) on staffing. He said new guidance on the matter had been issued on Tuesday by the European Centre of Disease Prevention and Control.

Dr Holohan could not provide an answer on the specifics of an individual nurse but said there has been a “significant programme” of testing of staff in all healthcare settings. He said Nphet was to consider the categories of people to be prioritised as testing capacity expands.

Social Democrats TD Róisín Shortall raised concern about the “disconnect” between the 3,000 tests being carried out per day and the 15,000 capacity that is now in place.

Dr Holohan said results of the tests being conducted were coming back with a 3 per cent infection rate.

He added that the confirmed contacts of individuals who have fallen ill are now automatically being tested.

Testing system

Earlier on Tuesday, secretary general of the Department of Health Jim Breslin said Ireland's testing system for Covid-19 was one that was "patched together" but was now being redesigned "end to end" by the HSE.

He told the committee, which was calling its first witnesses on Tuesday, that the target for testing was three days for 70 per cent of all tests. “There will be further improvement and texting back negative results will speed things up.”

The requirement for the use of private hospital facilities would continue because there could be a further surge. “We’re not a health system endowed with capacity,” he said in response to questions from Fianna Fáil health spokesman Stephen Donnelly.

He said the Government would have to review the use of private facilities. Mr Breslin said a majority of consultants had signed up for the public system and that private patients would be offered the choice of whether they wished to stay with their private consultant or transfer over to the public system.


Dr Holohan said 97 per cent of people tested were getting their negative results back by text. He said there was a fixation on 100,000 tests a week but it may need to be more fluid.

In a reply to questions from Sinn Féin health spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly, Dr Holohan said that 30.15 per cent of health care workers had tested positive for Covid-19 but there had been a substantive fall in the rate of infection in recent weeks.

Dr Holohan also referred to comparisons with Sweden, which has opted for a different herd immunity system. He said Sweden faced a greater challenge than Ireland because it had almost 400 people in intensive care.

If population figures were adjusted for Ireland, that would mean 200 people in intensive care when there are currently 50.

He also rejected comparisons with New Zealand and said it was on the other side of the world and “direct comparisons are not entirely valid”.

He said Ireland was “closer to the epicentre of the virus in a way that New Zealand was not” because the epicentre is in western Europe and not in New Zealand, which is 2,000km from another country.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times