The Irish Times view on Covid-19 travel restrictions: progress at last

The fear that important public health measures might not guarantee total success is no excuse for not trying

The case for stringent measures at airports and ports has become even stronger in recent weeks. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

The case for stringent measures at airports and ports has become even stronger in recent weeks. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, the State has consistently failed to adequately address the risks posed by inward travel. While the border with Northern Ireland undoubtedly creates a vulnerable point in any containment strategy, too often its existence has been cited as an excuse for doing nothing at all.

But the case for stringent measures at airports and ports has become even stronger in recent weeks. First, the steady decline in case numbers and hospitalisations has focused minds on the need to sustain that hard-won progress. It cannot be done if people continue to bring the virus with them from overseas. Second, rising concerns over the possible resistance of some novel mutations of the disease to vaccines makes it even more important to stop or at least slow the importation of those variants. A study showing that the AstraZeneca vaccine offers only limited protection against mild and moderate disease from the so-called South African variant has only intensified those concerns, even if specialists still hope it will offer protection against severe illness.

In recent days, measures that should have been part of our national anti-Covid armoury a year ago are finally being adopted. People found to be leaving the State for non-essential reasons, including holidays, face a fine of €500. It is now an offence for people who do not ordinarily live in the State to travel here without a reasonable excuse. The Government has introduced a quarantine requirement for arrivals, although a mandatory hotel quarantine regime is not yet in place and important questions about it remain unanswered.

These moves will have an important deterrent effect, but that doesn’t mean enforcement is optional. If people sense the new rules are easy to get around, some will ignore them. It’s good that Irish and British authorities have begun to talk about a coordinated two-island approach to travel. Government figures are said to be doubtful about the potential for true alignment.

Again, however, the fear that important public health measures might not guarantee total success is no excuse for not trying.

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