THE CALLS for a zero-Covid approach in Ireland are growing louder, and the Government may soon be forced to act.
As images from packed festivals and sports events in New Zealand made their way to Ireland, where it is illegal to travel further than 5km from home and household visits are banned, the calls to put an end to rolling lockdowns have grown more desperate.
Last March, while much of the world went into lockdown but did not close borders, instead waiting until restrictions lowered cases enough to ease the rules-- until the inevitable rise in cases put everyone back into lockdown again-- New Zealand took a different approach.
Citizens went into a long, strict lockdown, but borders were almost completely closed, except for in certain cases. Even then, those exceptions were put into a designated hotel quarantine for two weeks-- at their own expense-- and were not allowed out until they tested negative for the virus.
The result has been New Zealand experiencing months without a case of community transmission, as all positive cases are stopped at the border and put into mandatory isolation until they are no longer infectious, and life has pretty much returned to normal.
meanwhile in covid-free New Zealand, a music festival at the weekend pic.twitter.com/94gM3HO3vq
— Jim Pickard (@PickardJE) January 25, 2021
The move has been such a success that, last week, one case of community transmission was detected, and the test and trace system was able to identify a woman who had somehow tested negative after mandatory quarantine but tested positive five days later; they were able to identify everywhere she had visited, as well as everyone she came into contact with.
New Zealand is an island with a population of around 5 million people; the Republic of Ireland is an island with a population of around 5 million people. The difference is that Ireland shares a border with the UK, and this is what politicians have been pointing to over the past year when questioned as to why we were not taking a similar approach.
Public health expert Dr Tomás Ryan appeared on Claire Byrne Live yesterday evening where he explained how a Zero Covid approach could work in Ireland should it be brought in.
Stating that the approach is "perfectly realistic", Dr Ryan said we have a choice of "taking control of our situation or [choosing] to live in rolling lockdowns or permanent lockdown for the rest of 2021".
In order for Ireland to live Covid-free, Dr Ryan said, "We need three things".
"We need to chase, we need to crush, and we need to contain the virus.
"Crushing it means what we're already doing-- we're in a long lockdown now whether we like it or not. We need to bring cases down to 10 cases a day or, ideally, zero cases of community transmission.
"Hundreds of cases is too high, and we can't do this by early March-- that's out of the question," he said.
— Claire Byrne Live (@ClaireByrneLive) January 25, 2021
"The second thing we need to do is contain new cases as they come into the country. Zero Covid doesn't mean absolute zero ... you're still going to have cases coming in, they need to be quarantined."
Referencing a poll that found that 90% of Irish people want mandatory quarantine, Dr Ryan continued: "We need to move towards this and the government have to stop resisting.
"The last thing [we need] is chasing in the community," he added.
"When cases emerge in a zero-Covid situation, it doesn't mean you go into Level 5 lockdown for a month. It means you have a local search for it.
"You treat every case like a murder: You contact trace them exhaustively using the Australian model, and that leads to minimum disruption and you can have an effectively Covid-zero situation, which in Australia ... means no mask-wearing."
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar also appeared on Claire Byrne Live yesterday evening where, under increased pressure to introduce a Covid Zero approach and mandatory quarantine, he warned "if we did it, it would probably be for a year."
"I think once you do a very dramatic public health measure like that, it is hard to reverse. We probably wouldn't reverse it until everyone was vaccinated," he said. "Then we'd be heading into the winter.
"We wouldn't want to open up flights before Christmas. So people who maybe would like to take a summer holiday in August, people who would maybe like to see their relatives this Christmas ... that would probably be off the agenda."
However, Minister for Transport and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan has said that international travel and holidays are 'unlikely' in 2021 regardless of whether mandatory quarantine is brought in.