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Coronavirus: New all-island quarantining strategy badly needed, says leading medic

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Dr Gabriel Scally

Dr Gabriel Scally

Dr Gabriel Scally

Health authorities on both sides of the border should impose a stricter quarantine on travellers coming from foreign destinations such as the United States, where coronavirus is out of control, a leading public health expert has said.

Belfast-born Dr Gabriel Scally, a former NHS doctor and professor of public health at the University of Bristol, urged Northern Ireland and the Republic to follow the example of other countries like New Zealand in its approach to accepting travellers.

Nearly 30,000 people arriving in the country have successfully completed isolation periods overseen by its authorities since its borders were closed in March, it has been reported.

Dr Scally told the Belfast Telegraph the matter should be looked at, given that flights between Dublin and parts of the United States have resumed.

There is growing concern over the number of US arrivals in Ireland from areas such as Texas, which has witnessed a spike in coronavirus cases of 40,000 over the past seven days.

It comes as the Republic's coronavirus reproductive number increased to 1.

That means the virus is spreading in the population, and more cases linked to travel have been reported.

In Northern Ireland recent estimates have placed the R-rate at between 0.5 and 1.

TUV leader Jim Allister had previously raised concerns that flights arriving in Dublin from Covid-19 hotspots could pose a threat to the situation in Northern Ireland.

The Department of Health on Monda said anyone travelling to here from countries which are not exempt from the quarantine rules, such as the US, must self-isolate for a fortnight.

Those arriving from outside the Common Travel Area must fill in a form, providing details of where they are residing.

The PSNI has said it is not responsible for vetting visitors from countries such as the US, stating the management of the regulations lies with UK Border Force.

Dr Scally said regardless of the procedures in place, the quarantine rules on both sides of the border are currently difficult to enforce.

"It should be done on an all-island basis because people can go back and forth across the border at will," he said. "I think the quarantine should be much more restrictive, and that might include partial testing, and anyone high risk (of having Covid-19) quarantining at a designated site before going on their way."

He stressed tougher enforcement on international travellers is the only way to eliminate the virus in Ireland.

"Remember that the first confirmed case was someone coming from Italy and travelling to Northern Ireland via Dublin," added Dr Scally.

The Department of Health said any individual arriving here from outside the Common Travel Area must comply with the two requirements, namely to fill out forms and adhere to the 14-day quarantine.

"Both of these requirements apply to anyone arriving into Northern Ireland regardless of the travel route used," it added.

The PSNI said: "The management of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel) Regulations (NI) 2020 is a matter for UK Border Force and their associated partners. The police role is to respond to reports from the UK Border Force or any of their associated partners of potential breaches."

Belfast Telegraph