Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland should implement the same quarantine rules or risk a second Covid-19 surge, an expert has warned.
Professor Gabriel Scally is a member of the independent 'Sage' group of experts. It is separate to the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) which advises the government on health matters.
He said every effort must be put in place now to halt the rise in Covid-19 cases in Northern Ireland, as official figures revealed another nine people here have tested positive for the virus.
Epidemiologist Professor Scally said the current separate approaches by Northern Ireland and the Republic will be problematic for health officials in the coming months.
“We are crying out for an integrated system,” he said.
Dr Tom Black, chair of the British Medical Association in Northern Ireland, has also said it would be preferable for the same quarantine policy to be put in place on both sides of the border.
“It would be better if we co-ordinate our efforts with them,” he said.
It comes as the Republic of Ireland finalises its so-called ‘green list’ of countries that will be exempt from quarantine rules as part of the its strategy to suppress Covid-19. The details of the strategy were expected to be made public today but last night Dublin announced it would be delaying publication.
It is expected that the Republic’s ‘green list’ will be significantly different to the current quarantine rules for Northern Ireland, where people arriving from 59 countries and 14 British overseas territories are not required to quarantine.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said Britain is “unlikely” to feature on the list, adding that the United States will definitely be excluded.
Dr Scally criticised the current approach, which he said will see people flying into Dublin and Belfast and moving freely over the border regardless of the different quarantine rules.
“Northern Ireland should not be following blindly what Westminster is doing, to do that is a mistake,” he explained.
“Northern Ireland, the Republic and Scotland have all done a good job in getting numbers of the virus down so low. What they should be doing now is trying to get it to zero and to do that, they have to prevent an increase in new cases.
“It is inevitable that there will be more cases as there is more international travel. What people don’t seem to understand is that this pandemic is still in full flow in the west of the world and is getting worse by the day.
“The only way to be safe is to get to zero cases and stay at zero and the only way to stay at zero is by being extremely careful about people travelling into the country.
“The governments should be making use of the memorandum of understanding and talking about co-operation. There should be a system for the island, this is a crucial point in the whole history of this pandemic for Ireland.
“Both north and south, and in Scotland, we are starting to see the cases edge back up and that’s worrying. If the trend continues over the summer, it is going to mean a very bad winter.”
The chair of the Stormont health committee, Colm Gildernew, is also calling for the implementation of an all-Ireland Covid-19 strategy.
The Sinn Fein MLA said: “It is an absolute truth that viruses do not recognise borders therefore our strategy must be the suppression and elimination of the Covid virus on an all-island basis.
“Public health officials across the entire island must act swiftly and cohesively if we are to return to any kind of normality.
“The evidence gained from epidemiological data from the north and south supports the case for coordinated action across the entire island if we are to suppress and eliminate the Covid virus.”
Meanwhile, Paula Bradshaw, Alliance Party health spokeswoman, said: “I worry that we are missing the fundamental point that quarantine cannot be made effective in Northern Ireland until both the UK Home Office and Irish immigration authorities share information about who is passing through our ports of entry.
“At the very least, all arrivals into anywhere on the island of Ireland from England should be required to submit contact details for tracing and potential testing, and that information should be shared with authorities on both sides of the north-south border.”