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Covid travel system ‘not fit for purpose’

An epidemiologist has expressed concern at Ireland’s travel rules allowing unrestricted movement into Ireland from EU “red” zone countries where a negative PCR test is provided at not less than five days after arrival.

According to Prof Gerry Killeen, AXA Research Chair in Applied Pathogen Ecology at University College Cork (UCC) School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, this approach will “miss cases” and cause a spike in transmission.

Prof Killeen criticised the lack of enforcement around international travel in Ireland. He said the current EU scheme in regard to international travel was “not fit for purpose”.

He argued that a separate strategy with stricter protocols was required to ensure infections did not enter Ireland from abroad.

Serial testing could shorten the 14-day period, he suggested. However, Prof Killeen added that a pilot study was required before such a system to relax the 14-day period was introduced. 

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has said periods of restricted movement from “orange”, “red” or “grey” regions can end if a person receives a “not detected” PCR test taken a minimum of five days after their arrival in Ireland.

The change came into effect in Ireland from midnight 29 November.

A country is deemed “orange if the 14-day notification rate is lower than 50 cases per 100,000 but the test positivity rate is 4 per cent or higher or, if the 14-day notification rate is between 25 and 150 cases per 100,000 and the test positivity rate is below 4 per cent.

“Red” refers to a country where the 14-day notification rate is 50 cases per 100, 000 or higher and the test positivity rate is 4 per cent or higher or if the 14-day notification rate is higher than 150 cases per 100 000.

A country is labelled “grey” if there is insufficient information or if the testing rate is lower than 300 cases per 100 000.

Prof Killeen warned there are still “stag nights flying into Ireland” and he expressed concern at further influxes of travellers over the Christmas period.

“I think a lot of people will use their common sense and I think a lot of people won’t, until our Government decides to do its jobs. Members of the public can’t patrol airports and put people into isolation rooms, they can’t follow them up at home,” said Prof Killeen.

“Even with restricting your movements, you can be in a household full of people at home and then those people can take the virus out into the community.

“Enforcement only applies to people who are in breach, who are non-compliant.  It doesn’t affect the rest of us. But we do need those things implemented otherwise all our hard work is undone.”

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