Mandatory quarantine for coronavirus patients and close contacts could allow Ireland to phase out national restrictions in the coming weeks.
Infectious disease specialist Professor Sam McConkey is calling for the country’s public health resources to be focused on outbreaks and parts of the country with high levels of the virus.
He was speaking as the Government prepares to announce its plan for exiting Level Five restrictions over the Christmas season.
On Newstalk Breakfast, Professor McConkey said the system would allow the majority of the country to safely live alongside the virus.
“What we need to gradually do is move away from restrictions on everyone in the country and rather focus increasing restrictions on people who actually have COVID-19 and the people in the immediate vicinity of where they live and work and have travelled in the previous 14 days,” he said.
“I think that will allow most of us, who don’t have COVID-19, to have a more relaxed, more happy festive time over Christmas.
“But it does involve a lot more testing. For example, sending mobile testing units up to Donegal to Louth or to Limerick where there are still a lot of cases – and then detailed follow-up of those cases.”
Professor McConkey said there is already legislation in place which could be used to force patients and close contacts to isolate.
“We could do something called mandatory quarantine, where we use the health act from 1947,” he said.
“It has been used to restrict people with Tuberculosis. We could be asking people who have definite COVID-19 and perhaps their close contacts; we could be giving them a legally mandate piece of paper that says you are obliged by the law of this country to stay in your house.
“I would say there are about 80% or 90% of people are doing a fantastic job of controlling COVID but there are a small number of people who aren’t and one way to increase that is to use a legally mandated court order with at least the threat of a fine.”
He said his proposal would require a range of new system to respond to outbreaks as they happen.
“For example, pop-up testing,” he said. “Have a pop-up test centre in the location of an outbreak.
“Once there are two or three cases, have a little tent there the same day offering testing to perhaps a couple of hundred people in that vicinity.
“We also need more accessible testing. Some people don’t have a test centre close to them. We need to make it easy and quick for people – particularly where there is an outbreak to get a test done quickly.
“Then we have to make sure everyone has access to a GP. Particularly in a factory or a business – does everyone have rapid access to a family doctor they can call to get the test organised?
“Are there then people on the ground from public health experts and outbreak control who can go to locations where there are schools and businesses where there are known outbreaks and help the managers, help the leaders and owners to control it there?”
Professor McConkey said the plan would allow the rest of the country to safely reduce restrictions.
“For the people who don’t have COVID, we could then have some relaxing of restrictions,” he said.
“The numbers thankfully have come down and are coming down even more. We have now realised we are among the best countries in Europe for having this under control.”
He said the plan could prevent a third wave early in the new year.
“I do not want to see this come back in January, February or March and neither do you and neither does anyone in Ireland,” he said.
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