Mandatory quarantine should be introduced for people coming into Ireland, the deputy chief medical officer has said.
Dr Ronan Glynn told the Oireachtas Health Committee that there should be as few people as possible coming into the country for non-essential reasons over the coming months.
It came a day after Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said introducing a 14-day quarantine period for travellers arriving in the country would be “disproportionate” and “unworkable”.
However, the Irish Times reported on Friday that the Government is considering introducing mandatory quarantine for passengers arriving into the Republic who do not have a valid PCR test showing they are Covid negative.
The Cabinet is coming under increasing pressure to introduce tougher restrictions as the EU mulls a ban on non-essential travel between member states.
On Friday, Dr Glynn said the current regime on international travel makes it more difficult to maintain suppression of Covid-19, particularly in light of new strains of the virus.
He told the committee: “Nphet has been as clear as it possibly can be in relation to international travel. We do not want non-essential travellers coming into this country. We’ve been clear on that for months.
“It has happened, although obviously the volume of travel has been way down, which is welcome.
“But there is no doubt that travel is continuing to play a role in in the transmission of this disease in this country, and will make it more difficult to maintain suppression over time. That’s particularly in light of the new variants.
“The regime that’s there at the moment will not stop all cases coming into this country.”
Dr Glynn said Nphet is particularly concerned about “discretionary” elements of international travel, such as incoming travellers being advised to self-isolate, rather than the measures being enforced.
He said: “Our advice is that the discretionary elements of travel need to be addressed to the greatest extent possible.
“Mandatory quarantine is one way in which that can be done, but there may be other ways that that can be done that I’m not privy to from a health perspective.
“But, as I say, the key is that as few people as possible come into this country for non-essential reasons over the coming weeks and months.”
Dr Glynn said Nphet are not “experts in what’s possible” from a political perspective.
He added: “What we want is a situation where non-essential travel is reduced to the greatest extent possible, through whatever means that are required to bring that about.”
The committee also heard that there have been 532 deaths related to Covid-19 so far in January.
This is in line with the stark projection from Nphet that this month would see between 500 and 1,000 deaths linked to the disease.
Director of acute hospitals at the HSE Liam Woods told the committee there are currently more than 6,000 staff off sick, because they are either Covid-positive, self-isolating or cocooning.
Around half of those absences are nurses, he said.
Dr Glynn warned that it will take a long time to get the daily case numbers down to levels seen last summer, and that there is “a long way to go” before restrictions can be lifted.
Ireland must seal borders or face lockdowns into 2…
He declined to predict a timeframe, or a level of daily cases that might make reopening the economy and society feasible.
While hospitals remain under intense pressure, Dr Glynn said Nphet believes it is seeing the peak in terms of patient admissions this week.
The peak of patients in intensive care units could come next week, he said, noting the typical lag between admissions and patients being referred to intensive care.