Covid-19 restrictions gap could lead to cross-Border spikes, medics warn

Disappointing the two governments have not coordinated their actions better, GPs say

The growing gap between Covid-19 restrictions in Northern Ireland and the Republic could lead to repeats of the infection spikes which occurred in Border counties last autumn, figures in health and public life have warned.

Two leading family doctors with practices on either side of the Border have said it is disappointing the two governments on the island have not coordinated their actions better.

Since March 8th, Northern authorities have allowed click and collect shopping for baby equipment, clothing, footwear and electrical goods. The number of people from two households who can meet outside is now 10. People are allowed to travel 16 kilometres from home for exercise in the North. The numbers allowed to attend weddings and funerals is 25, compared to six and 10 in the South.

Dr Tom Black, a GP in Derry said as restrictions ease people will begin to cross the Border to access services, hospitality and retail that are not available in their own jurisdiction.


Dr Black, who is also chair of the British Medical Association Council, Northern Ireland, said the Republic was between two and four weeks behind the North in terms of vaccination and infection levels.

“We are still close enough (in terms of progress) that we should be able to coordinate in broad terms so that a person from Donegal is not going into Derry to do their non-essential shopping and vice versa.

“If we don’t do that we run the risk of high transmission and high infection.

“In August of 2020 Derry had the lowest rate of infection in the whole of the UK. Six weeks later we had the highest rate of infection in western Europe.

“One of the reasons is people crossed the Border to do on the other side what they couldn’t do on their own.”

Dr Black said the First Minster, the Deputy First Minister, the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste, needed to work on the closest possible coordination. “We have a golden opportunity with the vaccination programme. If it is not done properly, there will outbreaks at the end of the summer concentrated around border counties.

Lifford GP Dr Paul Armstrong agreed that the level of coordination between both jurisdictions was disappointing.

“We would have hoped that a year on we could have a phased reopening that would be matched cross-Border.

“We will be disappointed if there are different levels of reopening. It will create difficulties with transmission and infections.

“We are still seeing cases that have a cross-border element, not in the same numbers that we saw in September and October. but there is still an element,” he said.

Sinn Féin TD for Donegal Pádraig Mac Lochlainn said there were concerns now about new outbreaks as a result of this. “All the services that people are missing in Donegal will be available across the Border. Small business are very nervous that pent up demand will be lost to trade across the Boder.”

Similarly Fianna Fáil TD Niamh Smyth said the risk of transmission would be a “huge problem” if there was not better coordination.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times