Letter to HSE Unanswered
The following letter was written to the National Clinical Director for Health Protection and the Department of Public Health in Limerick on February 9th, by a member of Shannonwatch. An acknowledgement was received, but otherwise there has been no reply to the issues raised.
I am contacting you to request your prompt intervention as Medical Officer of Health with regard to the life-threatening risk of infection posed to the population of the Mid-West and the whole population of Ireland by air travellers entering Ireland via Shannon Airport from the United States and the Middle East, where there is a high incidence of Covid-19.
It has come to my attention that a number of US military aircraft and aircraft on contract to the US military transporting US soldiers to and from Middle East war zones have on several occasions being staying overnight at Shannon airport, and as a result of this the crews and passengers travelling on these aircraft have not only entered Shannon airport but have also passed through Shannon airport and stayed in a number of hotels in County Clare and possibly in Limerick city also.
The following are just three such examples in recent weeks:
A US Navy C40A Boeing 737 aircraft registration number 16-5829 arrived at Shannon airport at 7.06pm on 25th January coming from Bahrain in the Persian Gulf, stayed overnight at Shannon airport and took off for the USA at 11.35am on 26th January. Its crew and any passengers who may have been on board were accommodated in a local hotel.
An Omni Air International civilian aircraft Registration number N828AX on contract to the US military landed at Shannon airport on the morning of 28th January and after refuelling flew on to Rota air base in southern Spain, but due to fog at that air base it was unable to land and returned to Shannon landing at 11.27am on Thursday 28 January 2021. This was not an emergency landing as there were no problems with the aircraft and it could have landed at any airport in Western Europe. The aircraft remained at Shannon overnight and took off again at 09.28am on Friday 29 January 2021. Two hundred and twenty-six US soldiers were travelling on this aircraft in addition to the aircraft crew members. The crew and all the passengers on board this aircraft were accommodated in a number of local hotels. On Thursday 28th January it travelled back to Rota air base in Spain and then travelled on to Kuwait in the Persian Gulf.
A US air force, Special Operations Command Dornier C-140A aircraft registration number 97-3093 arrived at Shannon airport at about 13.42pm on 8th February 2021 coming from the USA. It spent over 17 hours at Shannon airport before taking off at 07.29am on 9th February 20021. The crew members of this aircraft, and any passengers who were on board were also most likely to have been allowed enter through Shannon airport and accommodated overnight in a local hotel.
The airport authorities have stated that aircraft crews are exempted from Covid-19 testing when entering Ireland. This should be a matter of serious concern to you and to the HSE and the Department of Health. The airport authorities have also confirmed that no Covid-19 tests were carried out on any of the passengers even though no exemption should have been granted to these passengers.
The likelihood of this happening again or indeed the likelihood of this having happened on multiple occasions previously is quite strong. All of which adds to the risk the pandemic poses to the people of the Shannon region.
The US Department of Defence has reported that there have been about 145,000 coronavirus cases amongst active-duty personnel and 21 fatalities related to Covid-19 during the pandemic. Getting the vaccine is "a personal decision" for military personnel according to Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Foreign travel restrictions are in place in Ireland to protect public health and to mitigate the risk of new variants of Covid-19 entering the country. It is now a legal requirement for all passengers arriving in Ireland to quarantine for at least five days and much more strict quarantine requirements have just been announced for people entering the United Kingdom. Only very limited categories of passengers can be exempt from this legal requirement according to the Department of Foreign Affairs Travel Advisory notice yet US military personnel staying overnight in the Shannon region are being exempted, regardless of the real risks to public health.
These incidents and others like them present a grave ongoing risk of perpetuation and exacerbation of the Covid-19 pandemic in the Mid-West and throughout Ireland. The decision of Shannon Airport authorities to permit these aircraft crews and passengers to land, disembark and leave the airport constitutes reckless endangerment of the lives of the people of the Mid-West and the whole of Ireland.
I wish to request you to take appropriate steps in your capacity as Medical Officer of Health to investigate these incidents and to take measures to remove conditions favourable to infection with SARS-CoV-2, as required by the Infectious Diseases Regulations, so that the epidemic of Covid-19 within Ireland can be brought under control.
I will send a copy of this letter by regular post also.
Please acknowledge receipt of this email
The HSE cannot say they didn't know about the risks to public health posed by the US miliatry and Irish authorities' disregard for Covid-19 regulations. We are now calling on the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnolly, to intervene, and to provide a full explnation as to how the incidents involving US military personnel were allowed to happen.