Cork scientist: Reopening pubs 'has to make things worse'

Cork scientist: Reopening pubs 'has to make things worse'
Prof. Gerry Killeen, AXA Research Chair in Applied Pathogen Ecology, UCC.Picture Denis Minihane.

A LEADING Cork scientist has cautioned against reopening pubs next week, warning that it could make the trend of increasing coronavirus cases worse.

Professor Gerry Killeen, AXA Research Chair in Applied Pathogen Ecology at the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences at University College Cork (UCC), said Ireland “is back in the wrong club” and in recent days has joined a number of European countries which are reporting growing case numbers again.

“Even with what we’ve done so far, we are already getting ourselves back into trouble,” said Mr Killeen, adding that anything the country does to further reopen the country at this juncture will have an impact.

Professor Killeen pointed out how when Ireland was in Phase Two it managed to shrink the epidemic about 50% every two to three weeks.

“June 26 was our lowest incidence rate. Since then we’ve allowed things to creep up slowly, but surely,” said the UCC scientist.

He said if Ireland returned to Phase Two and started shrinking the epidemic again, that it would take around two months to get back to where the country was on June 26.

“That’s if we did nothing — if we didn’t open our schools, we didn’t open the pubs and we didn’t go through any further reopening of the economy and society. That’s the situation we are in,” he said.

“Obviously, anything further we do, to some extent, has to make things worse.

“If you have something going upwards and you do something that’s going to make it go upwards faster, then there’s only one thing that can happen,” he said.

Prof. Gerry Killeen, AXA Research Chair in Applied Pathogen Ecology, UCC.Picture Denis Minihane.
Prof. Gerry Killeen, AXA Research Chair in Applied Pathogen Ecology, UCC.Picture Denis Minihane.

Professor Killeen admitted that it was a difficult and emotional time for people and said: “At best, where we are today is as good as it gets — can we keep doing this and is that wise?”

Professor Killeen is among a number of scientists and healthcare professionals in Ireland calling for a ‘Zero-Covid Island’ approach to the epidemic which aims to reduce the Covid-19 incidence across the island of Ireland to zero before society and the economy is reopened.

Those involved say relaxing restrictions before a Zero-Covid island is achieved risks a second wave.

Amongst other things, signatories to the ‘Zero-Covid Island’ have called for wearing masks in public spaces and outdoors in crowds to be normalised and legally enforced as well as “proper regulation of travel and associated isolation, supplemented with repeated serial testing before release”.

“Unless we take action, at best we will have reduced economic activity and continuing disruption to our lives because of social distancing, and at worst a second surge of infections,” the group said adding: “A Zero-Covid island is our only viable exit strategy from the ongoing Covid-19 epidemic, which may otherwise last for years or indefinitely.”

Other signatories to ‘Zero-Covid Island’ include Professor Patricia Kearney, a Professor of Epidemiology at UCC and Professor Ivan Perry, Professor of Public Health at UCC.

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