“Reasonable” restrictions on international travel are how “we keep ourselves safe” from COVID-19 over the coming years, Dr Gabriel Scally has said.
He has warned that variants of the virus will keep “coming at us” for the next two years, and there’s a need to take suitable precautions.
The debate around international travel has intensified recently, with just weeks to go until Ireland implements the EU’s digital green pass system.
In Ireland, much of the discussion has been dominated by the issue of rapid antigen testing to facilitate travel - something health officials have been reluctant to introduce.
Dr Scally - the visiting professor of Public Health at the University of Bristol - has been a high-profile supporter of continued travel restrictions.
He has also said the NPHET stance on antigen testing is "entirely correct".
The Chief Medical Officer for Ireland, the public health physician Dr Tony Holohan @CMOIreland, was crystal clear and entirely correct in the advice he gave to a parliamentary committee in Dublin yesterday on the role of LFTs. LFTs have a role, but it is very limited. 8/8 pic.twitter.com/cXktB4iafk
— Dr Gabriel Scally (@GabrielScally) June 17, 2021
On Newstalk Breakfast, CityJet founder Pat Byrne - a supporter of antigen testing to facilitate travel - accused Dr Scally of “scaremongering”.
The businessman suggested the public health expert “spends all his time trying to scare the living daylights out of people”.
However, Dr Scally insisted COVID-19 is still a “very dangerous virus” around the world, despite Ireland and Europe’s progress in the vaccine rollout.
He said: “You can accuse me of scaremongering - what I’m doing is telling you the truth.
"All the modelling shows that England is in the early stages of a third wave, and that’s why the Government has not relaxed restrictions to any enormous extent.
“We’re going to have variants coming at us for two years, and we’ve got to take suitable precautions. One of the things that involves is restricting international travel as much as is reasonable and as much as we possibly can.
“That’s how we keep ourselves safe for the next couple of years, until the world is vaccinated.”
He pointed to the situation in England, which has seen an increase in COVID-19 cases, hospitalisations and deaths linked to the spread of the more transmissible Delta variant.
"Very serious business"
CMO Dr Tony Holohan has said there's been a "concerning increase" in cases of the Delta variant in Ireland recently.
Dr Scally said that strain of the virus - which was originally detected in India - is “very serious business”.
He suggested: “Vaccines are fantastic and we’re doing really well on vaccination.
“But if you’re going to keep [COVID] under control, we still have to have some restrictions - then it’s a matter of choice of what those restrictions are.”
He added that antigen testing is a very useful tool when used in the right place - such as in meat factories, or perhaps for routine testing in workplaces or colleges.
However, he said the tests are still not reliable enough compared to the PCR test.
He noted that officials in the US have just recently told people to throw one popular antigen test - manufactured by Innova - “in the trash can”, as it’s not effective.
The FDA recalled batches of the test in question earlier this month over the “risk of false test results”.