Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

08.46 21 Dec 2020


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The Government should now consider using hotels for a 14-day mandatory quarantine for people arriving here from abroad, Professor Sam McConkey has suggested.

The infectious diseases specialist said the measure would be 'less draconian' than the complete ban on travel from Britain, which is now in place for at least 48 hours.

He said he himself would have chosen mandatory quarantine over a travel ban, although acknowledged it's something that cannot be introduced with only hours notice.

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Many countries in Europe have banned passengers from Britain due to concern over the new strain of COVID-19 which the British government says has spread rapidly in parts of Europe.

Professor McConkey - head of the Department of International Health and Tropical Medicine at RCSI - told Newstalk Breakfast that he hasn't yet seen data that the new strain is significantly different to the 'old' COVID-19.

He believes the British government didn't control the spread of the virus quite as well as they could have, so are now 'quite rightly' escalating restrictions.

In terms of travel, he said: "Restricting travel is unprecedented - that's a whole new thing we've never done. What maybe we could do is start re-profiling hotels, to allow people to do mandatory 14-day isolation.

"We can't keep up the no travel for ever - we have to travel for various reasons on our little island."

He suggested that re-profiling hotels for that purpose could also help save the hotel industry over the coming months.

A number of countries - such as Australia and New Zealand - have introduced mandatory quarantines for arrivals over the course of the pandemic.

New restrictions

Tomorrow will see the Cabinet decide on new coronavirus restrictions, which are likely to come into effect before New Year's Eve.

Professor McConkey said he does believe January 6th would be too late to reintroduce restrictions on inter-county travel following the current easing of measures for Christmas.

He said he still supports a zero COVID approach, which would involve tough restrictions in the early new year - including the closure of schools - to drive the virus rates down to very low levels.

He explained: "[Vaccination] will take 9-12 months...

"The companies just can't make enough [vaccine]... I see some time between September and December of 2021 when it's widely available to everyone. That's a long time away, so that's why we need a zero COVID approach."

He believes such an approach is doable, and would involve strict restrictions on external travel - as well as internal travel restrictions within the island of Ireland.

However, he said the payoff would be certainty for people and businesses while they wait for widespread vaccination.

It would also stop the 'yo-yo' of going in and out of different levels.

Main image: File photo. Image by ming dai from Pixabay

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