This is Stage 2 of ICAN's 7 Stage Elimination Framework. You can read the Introduction here.
Goal: To create an impermeable seal around the county that prevents external infection.
Timeframe: The policy is signalled to all stakeholders during Stage 1 – Prepare, taking immediate effect at initiation. It remains in place throughout the protocol and until elimination has been achieved in this, and in all neighbouring counties.
Policies that enforce a strict separation of populations may appear crude, arbitrary, or authoritarian, but when managing risk during a contagious outbreak, they become essential measures that can protect the health of the individual and the stability of society. These measures work by cutting the lines of transmission between the susceptible and the infected, thereby protecting whole populations in one act. Their value is underscored by their long history of use. The quarantine and the ‘cordon sanitaire’ have been used for centuries and to this day they play an important role in outbreak risk management. Ireland must develop these capabilities to protect itself from further outbreaks.
This Stage of the protocol establishes a regional bubble around the county that protects those inside from external infection. In addition to protecting the people’s health, the bubble reduces the number of risk factors to be managed during the elimination protocol. Without the possibility of additional infections, the problem is limited to the viral load that is present within the bubble at the time it is established. This frees resources to be focused on the mass testing program, making it easier for the health service to track down and eliminate the virus, and minimising the amount of time that the people spend in lockdown.
The management of the border and all essential and emergency travel is the responsibility of the Gardaí and health care workers. If Stage 1 – Prepare has been carried out effectively, the protocol will be understood, and the seal can be maintained with minimal enforcement.
Implementation | Border Management
Most routes in and out of the county are closed in the days leading up to the implementation of the seal. All essential and emergency travel runs through a few main roads, where there are well-staffed checkpoints. Essential travel will have been cleared in advance and travellers will have been given papers. The Gardaí manage travel in and out of the county, and health workers will provide testing where appropriate. If needed, additional support can be provided by the army and volunteers. The primary responsibility of all parties is to ensure the smooth and efficient implementation of the Framework’s protocols, and only in exceptional circumstances would they be expected to provide enforcement.
Implementation | Border Enforcement
The integrity of the seal is primarily determined by the public’s respect for it, which in turn is driven by their overall commitment to the plan. Neither the government nor the Gardaí can force people to obey the protocols, but they can earn the people’s respect by including them, their communities and their local representatives in the planning stage as described in Stage 1 – Prepare. The more engagement the people have with the plan, the more they will trust it, and the greater their adherence will be to all of its policies – not just the border seal. That said, no matter how well the government plans and communicates, there will still be a minority who chose to flout the rules. Extra powers could be handed to the Gardaí to support enforcement of the policies, but these would only be used in extreme circumstances, having exhausted every other option.
International | The International Border
If the region in question was a country instead of a county, the seal would be applied at the national level. The border would be closed, and all international travel would be halted for the duration of the protocol. For Ireland, this would involve the simple task of closing all air and seaports, and the more challenging task of co-ordinating the policy with Northern Ireland. All efforts to work with Northern Ireland on these issues are more likely to be productive if they include the governments of the United Kingdom from the start.