Following news of the new strain of Covid-19 which has appeared in Britain, Róisín Shortall TD, co-leader of the Social Democrats, has called for immediate and decisive action from the Government, an extension of the UK travel ban, renewed advice to the public in relation to gatherings and a clear decision on the early closure of hospitality and other non-essential services.

Deputy Shortall said:

“The new strain of the virus, which appears to have a much higher rate of reproduction, is of serious concern. The Government needs to be following public health advice closely in relation to stricter measures for household mixing, the numbers and timeframe allowed, as well as earlier closing of hospitality and other non-essential businesses.

“The recent advice from NPHET and updated advice following developments on the new strain, must be followed closely by the Government and I urge them to take immediate and decisive action. It would appear that the Government would have strong cross-party support in doing so.

“Serious consideration needs to be given to closing down activity early after Christmas. This requires very clear advice and speedy decisions from Government. There has so far been an element of kite flying going on in relation to changing the rules, which is very unhelpful. We need strong political leadership in the face of an enormous threat.

“Ireland is very exposed on the issue of travel and the lack of an all-island strategy from the beginning has seriously harmed our efforts. Given the information we now know about the impact of the new strain, the travel ban should be extended and consideration should also be given to banning flights from other jurisdictions as necessary. These decisions need to be taken as early as possible.

“The testing and tracing system, which has never been adequate, will now be completely overwhelmed. The tracing system needs to be fully resourced with expert training for our tracers, so that they are prepared for what is coming. We cannot risk a repeat of the public being asked to do their own contact tracing. Time is of the essence now, particularly if the much higher R-rate of the new strain begins to impact the spread of the virus in Ireland.

“Someone travelling into Ireland can waive the period of restricted movements if they have a negative test after arrival. But what happens if someone from the UK tests positive after 5 days? Our tracing system needs to be able to link private tests into the public system for the health and safety of our entire population. There is also the issue of people flying into the airports in Northern Ireland in order to access the Republic. How will they be monitored for restricted movements? Many questions remain unanswered.

“From the very beginning, we have never had a fully functioning testing and tracing system, adequate monitoring of travel, or an all-island strategy. Now we’re going to pay a big price for these not being in place, and Government will be required to take drastic action to account for it.

“Immediate action by Government, which reflects the emergency nature of the challenges for the country, is essential. Beyond that, Government strategy requires a complete reappraisal because we cannot continue to yo-yo in and out of lockdowns. The current ‘Living with Covid-19’ long-term strategy is clearly no longer adequate to cater for the new strain of the virus, and steps need to be taken to consider a strategy which aims for near elimination.”

December 21, 2020

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