Republic of Ireland news

Expert says Republic of Ireland should allow spread of Covid-19 among people under 60

 Sweden's former state epidemiologist, Professor Johan Giesecke, who has said that Ireland should allow a controlled spread of Covid-19 among people below the age of 60.
Cate McCurry, PA

The Republic of Ireland should allow a controlled spread of Covid-19 among people below the age of 60, an Oireachtas committee has been told.

Sweden’s former state epidemiologist, Professor Johan Giesecke, said health authorities should focus on the old and frail while ramping up testing on staff and care home patients.

Dr Giesecke, a former chief scientist at the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, also warned the Government to wait a year before comparing its Covid-19 results to other countries.

“This disease is only in its beginning right now,” he warned the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response.

The expert also said that even a soft, voluntary lockdown may be quite effective, adding that the public are “not stupid” and will follow clear Government advice.

“I think you should allow a controlled spread of disease for people below the age 60, but concentrate on the old and frail and there should be intensive testing of staff and patients and send home anyone who works there who has the slightest sign of infection,” he added.

He also said the epidemic and its counter-measures will hit the poor and marginalised the most.

Professor Samuel McConkey, head of the Department of International Health and Tropical Medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, said that Ireland is facing a “socially and politically fragmented future”.

Professor McConkey, a consultant in general medicine and tropical diseases at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, said the State is facing its biggest challenge in 100 years.

“Trying to hold us together as one nation is difficult,” he added.

“Some countries have more trust in authority and in public health experts but in Ireland we are independent folk.

“Trying to co-ordinate action is challenging and it’s the biggest challenge the State has faced in 100 years. There is no doubt the governance challenge is colossal.”

He also warned that a rise in Covid-19 cases will “inevitably” spread into care homes.

“Young people go into work in nursing homes and they can be for one or two days asymptotically shedding SARS-2 before they develop any symptoms, so the idea of keeping the sick out doesn’t work unfortunately,” he added.

He also told the committee that it’s clear Ireland is facing the beginning of its second wave of coronavirus.

“In my view there are three steps are needed now: one is to bring the number of cases down because if they keep rising we will end up with increasing numbers of ICU, death and disability,” he warned.

“The only tool we have is social and physical distancing, and I propose we do that to not just flatten the curve, not just push the curve down, but crush the curve completely into the ground and do better even than last time in May and June.

“The second thing is to keep cases down through contact tracing and outbreak investigation, sequencing, face-to-face contacts, pop-up testing, mobile teams, local teams of contact tracing, isolation, quarantine, local leadership so we can control any possibility of it coming back.

“We have let it out of control again.

“The next is the control of it coming into Ireland again and that is through the control of incoming travellers to Ireland.”

Meanhwhile, Professor Tomas Ryan, associate professor of biochemistry at the Trinity Institute of Neurosciences at the Trinity College Dublin, said the Government and Northern Ireland Executive should adopt an island-wide strategy.

He added: “We should work within the structures of the Belfast Agreement to share and co-ordinate and plan an all-island medium and long strategy to deal with Covid-19 and best of all on a two-islands (Great Britain) strategy where possible, of not just suppression but elimination.”

Professor Kirsten Schaffer, president of Irish Society of Clinical Microbiologists, said Ireland should not aim to have zero levels of Covid-19 as it is a European country that shares a land border with Northern Ireland.

Professor Schaffer, a consultant at St Vincent’s University Hospital, warned that the social and economic impact would be “devastating” as a significant proportion of the workforce is young and international, especially among healthcare workers.

“We should aim to keep community transmissions low enough to allow hospitals to function at full capacity, protect the vulnerable and allow as much social and economic life as possible,” she told the committee.

“We need public willingness to adhere to mask wearing and social distancing.

“I think we have to start becoming more informative, transparent, logical and consistent and we need more Irish epidemiology information for the public.

“We have to tell where are these outbreaks, and be open and transparent so they understand where these recommendations are actually coming from.”

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