‘Mandatory hotel quarantine is controversial for good reason’
Sir, – In “Mandatory hotel quarantine is controversial for good reason” (Business Opinion, April 9th), Mark Paul states: “I believe Ministers were simply browbeaten into implementing travel quarantine to assuage an angry and frightened public who were whipped into further frenzy by activist scientists allied with the Government’s political opposition. The public was tricked into believing that quarantine would somehow lead to a loosening of our current exhausting lockdown. They swallowed it whole.”
The Independent Scientific Advocacy Group (ISAG) is not allied with any political party and even a cursory look at our conversations over this past year would inform you of the truth of that. We are an independent volunteer group that seeks to communicate evidence-based policy recommendations for the pandemic response in order to save lives, protect health from long Covid and to end the long national lockdowns as the only means of its stated aim – to prevent hospital system overrun. These evidence-based policy recommendations include vaccination where possible; the full activation of public health measures (which are standard and uncontroversial in much of the world), such as case finding, contact tracing, and supported isolation; risk mitigation in schools to protect our children and communities; the short-term and effective use of local lockdown to reduce case numbers where needed; a clear strategic aim and therefore direction for our pandemic policy; and working data systems and effective and fair border support and management, which includes comprehensive mandatory hotel quarantine.
We interact with politicians of all parties and none, special interest groups, journalists and members of the public that are also concerned with saving lives and safely opening our society and economy. Some of us are members and supporters of both Government and Opposition parties; most are not. We rely on the objective assessment of scientific data and seek to communicate it to those who need or want to hear it. We base our implementational recommendations on what has been proven to work internationally, such as in Australia, Vietnam, Atlantic Canada, New Zealand, Iceland and South Korea.
Mark Paul writes that the “public was tricked” and “whipped into a frenzy”. This undermines the clear international evidence base, the fact of which pandemic public health measures save lives and improve the quality of those lives saved.
When we look back at this terrible year, where one in 1,000 people in the Republic have died from Covid because of decisions not to employ standard and uncontroversial public health measures, a year where “the public” have spent more months than not deprived of their liberty, community and livelihoods, one can clearly and objectively understand the very obvious reasons why people are “angry and frightened”.
We suggest that the Irish people do not benefit from their understandable human response to this great suffering being described as making them somehow gullible. We experience the Irish public as intelligent and well-informed, and capable of understanding the science when communicated well. For Mark Paul to write that “They swallowed it whole” is deeply disappointing.
ISAG values strategies orientated to saving lives, health and livelihoods and to ending the long national lockdowns required by the absence of these strategies in the Living With Covid and Path Ahead plans. We believe that Ireland would do best now to be ambitious – to look at what works and to adopt those strategies. If we do so now, we could safely end this extended draconian lockdown safely and look forward to a relatively normal summer. We could protect the excellent vaccine rollout from variants and from the expected bumps in the road which are inevitable due to vaccine supply, incomplete population coverage and growing risk of new variants. And while we are waiting for full population coverage, we could employ public health measures that allow us to safely reopen society and the economy as soon and as fully as possible.
We can protect ourselves from the ongoing risk of future surges, with the goal of minimising the time we need to spend in restrictions.
The choice is in our hands. – Yours, etc,
Prof ANTHONY STAINES,
Professor of Health Systems,
Dublin City University;
Prof GERRY KILLEEN,
AXA Research Chair
in Applied Pathogen
University College Cork;
Dr TOMÁS RYAN,
School of Biochemistry
Trinity College Dublin
(Members of Independent Scientific Advocacy Group).
Sir, – Our Government has stuck rigidly to EU procurement procedures for acquiring Covid-19 vaccines, but has decided to ignore European policy by introducing a mandatory hotel quarantine regime. As of this week we have also cut ourselves off from the US, Canada and several EU neighbours. Bizarrely, we have decided to do this when our most vulnerable groups are already vaccinated against Covid-19 and our land border with Northern Ireland remains open.
We allowed incoming travellers to arrive on our shores for the first 10 months of this pandemic without even requiring a negative PCR test.
Genetic sequencing proved that this laxity around travel reseeded the virus here, after initial successful suppression.
A robust, repeated testing system and supervised home-isolation system, which has worked well in Scandinavian countries, has not even been attempted before these draconian quarantine measures were imposed.
With our hospitality sector fully closed, nobody is coming to Ireland for spurious reasons. While the timing of the “Dubai Two” fiasco might have been convenient for the Government, the fact is that most people entering Ireland are reuniting with family, travelling for work purposes, or returning to Ireland from working or studying abroad.
So what will mandatory hotel quarantine achieve and, more importantly, how will we exit from this curtailment of personal freedoms? If the aim is to detect infected passengers, we could do this 99 per cent as well by repeated testing, both pre- and post-travel. So-called “variants of concern” are only really concerning if they prevent one, or more, of the current vaccines from protecting vaccinated individuals against severe disease. Such variants have not yet emerged but, if they do, they may circulate worldwide until total eradication is achieved, which is most likely never. So what will change “in a few months” – the duration the Minister for Health indicated as being necessary for this quarantine regime?
The whole situation is beyond troubling. Our only hope is that our elected MEPs and our business community will lobby the Government to implement EU policy on travel restrictions as rigidly as they embraced EU policy on vaccine procurement. – Yours, etc,
Rathgar, Dublin 6.
Sir, – As someone who works in the travel industry and has had my income slashed, and watched my industry be decimated over the last 12 months, it is painful to see the so-called leadership of the country disappear when needed most.
When the next general election comes around, I fear that no matter who I vote for, it will in reality still lead to a Nphet/Niac-controlled government. – Yours, etc,