An increase in tourism is likely to lead to a resurgence in coronavirus cases and authorities should consider from which countries they allow travellers to enter Ireland, a health expert has said.
It comes as the Government is expected to announce a set of so-called “air bridges” between Ireland and other countries which have a similarly low number of Covid-19 cases.
This would remove the requirement for people arriving in Ireland to quarantine for two weeks.
Infectious diseases specialist Professor Paddy Mallon told the special Covid-19 response committee that more tourism increases the risk of spreading the virus and that careful monitoring is needed.
He said: “I had a lot of concerns that we were relaxing restrictions too quickly but those fears have not played out in terms of increased community transmission. I will still be concerned – especially as we move into the next phase, as the next phase we get much more movement of people.”
“If there is no consideration from where the tourists are coming from, then we’re really giving ourselves a rod to break our back.
“You will have dissemination of tourists from a number of different countries around the island and we will have to look at how we cope with that, how we monitor that.”
“Irish people are on the ball with this and have been engaged with this from the beginning. People coming in from other countries may not be in the same mindset or of the same knowledge with reporting symptoms and how to get tested.”
Professor Mallon said that in other countries, the majority of the resurgence is occurring because new infections are being introduced either through people travelling into the country or through the movement of goods.
He said robust screening methods are needed at borders and airports to prevent travellers bringing the virus in.
“The importance of containing infections at borders become higher as levels of community transmission drop off. So from the policy-maker perspective, if you want to maintain community transmission at a level that is minimum, it is important you have robust screening methods at the point of entry into the country.
“You could screen everyone or judge your screening and restrictions on the epidemiological outbreak of the country the person is coming from. Someone coming from New Zealand compared to someone from Texas – the risk assessments would be very different.”
Professor Mallon also warned that while great progress in combating the virus has been made, we are still in the midst of a health emergency.
We've increased the capacity that can be used on public transport to 50%, which will mean that a lot more people can get on the buses and on the trainsShane Ross
“We are still in the midst of a national public health emergency and our citizens are at no less risk of severe illness and death if they contract Covid-19 infection now than they were back in March,” he said.
He said if the States’s testing and tracing system fails to work effectively then “we risk losing the gains provided to us through the sacrifices of the Irish people”.
Meanwhile, face masks on public transport will be mandatory to help stop the spread of coronavirus as more people return to work and use bus and train services.
Transport Minister Shane Ross will bring the face covering proposal to Cabinet on Thursday which will require the public to wear masks on trains, the Luas and buses.
It will not apply to people under the age of 13 and those who have health reasons which mean they cannot wear face masks.
Mr Ross said that as lockdown is being eased and more people are returning to towns and cities, public transport will come under pressure.
He said that social distancing rules on public transport have meant they are down to very low levels of passenger numbers.
“We’re talking about 12 people on the double-decker bus and that kind of equivalent reductions in rail,” he told RTE Morning Ireland.
“We’ve increased the capacity that can be used on public transport to 50%, which will mean that a lot more people can get on the buses and on the trains, but to counter to that, to protect people’s health, we’ve made it mandatory to wear face masks.
He said while there is no confirmed date when the measure will be introduced, it will be “in the next few weeks”.
On Wednesday another six people with Covid-19 died in Ireland, the National Public Health Emergency Team reported.
As of midnight Tuesday, the authorities had been notified of five more confirmed cases, making a total of 25,396.