Tourists heading west will put strain on local health services, says GP

Clifden doctor says face masks should be mandatory as Covid-19 restrictions lift

Dr Gabrielle Chhoa of the Clifden Medical Centre, Co Galway. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy.

Dr Gabrielle Chhoa of the Clifden Medical Centre, Co Galway. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy.


The Government must make face masks compulsory, or else the State will face a devastating second wave of Covid-19, a Connemara GP has warned on the eve of the latest relaxation of measures.

Fears are growing across the west of Ireland that local health services will not be able to cope as communities there prepare to welcome thousands of Irish tourists over the coming weeks.

Dr Gabrielle Chhoa, a GP at the Clifden Medical Centre for the past eight years, warned easing the lockdown could be dangerous unless a stricter approach is taken about face masks and other protections.

“Unless the Government gets stricter about it and comes out with some compulsory measures about wearing masks then there will continue to be mixed messages and mixed opinions about wearing masks,” she said.

“People don’t seem to be ready to keep their distance, but it has to be one or the other. You can’t just forget about keeping safe distances and forget about the masks. Coronavirus is still around and we have to be careful,” she went on.

Even dealing with ordinary medical issues facing tourists will be more difficult because of Covid-19, since waiting rooms are closed and access to clinics is strictly regulated.

“It is going to be a challenge. Everything we do now [since the arrival of Covid-19] takes more time, it’s more of a challenge, so having more patients to look after will be very time consuming,” she said.

“Usually tourists just walk in because they have fallen, or cut themselves and they need immediate attention. But if you close your waiting room then you have lots of people waiting outside to be seen, which will be difficult to manage,” she said.

‘Down from Dublin’

The Clifden Medical Centre, set up in 1950, has three GPs and has had to cope with the medical needs of locals and a large number of people “down from Dublin” cocooning in recent months.

“Everything we do has changed completely,” she said, “We had to come up with a way of getting patients inside safely, we had to make a dedicated Covid-19 room, we had to put up screens in reception.

“We’ve had to change the way we dress. We’re now wearing scrubs, we’re wearing masks and we’re wearing aprons. Everything is a lot more trouble than it used to be. It’s been a challenging and a busy time.”

Despite the risks, the doctor says easing the lockdown is correct: “The economy has to start again, you can’t isolate people forever. People need more freedom and to be able to see other people again. The figures [for coronavirus infection] are very low at the moment.”

However, she says, face masks are key: “Until we have a vaccine we won’t be able to control it fully, so I’m not sure that keeping people under lockdown for longer would make much of a difference.”