Cork infectious disease expert says we must act on coronavirus now; social distancing and cancellation of mass gatherings needed

Cork infectious disease expert says we must act on coronavirus now; social distancing and cancellation of mass gatherings needed
An employee of German biotech company Qiagen demonstrates the use of the QIAamp Viral RNA Mini Kit testing device for infectious diseases at the Qiagen plant on March 11, 2020 in Hilden, Germany. (Photo by Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images)

AN infectious disease expert in Cork has called for a unified effort from the community and from the health service to tackle the coronavirus outbreak, saying that if we introduce more measures to reduce the spread of the disease earlier rather than later, we may avert more deaths from COVID-19.

Dr Corinna Sadlier, who is a consultant in Infectious Diseases at Cork University Hospital said the situation regarding the current outbreak is evolving rapidly and that we need to listen to public health doctors to slow the spread of the illness.

The first case of COVID-19 was reported in Ireland on February 29 in a male patient in the east of the country. Last Thursday, the first case of community transmission of COVID-19 was reported in a male from the south of the country, which was associated with CUH.

“It’s remarkable the difference. Just last week we sent the test on the index case. So much has happened since then,” said Dr Sadlier.

Last night, the Department of Health confirmed that 43 cases of COVID-19 have now been reported in the Republic of Ireland. Globally, 118,619 cases have been reported including 4,292 deaths.

Dr Sadlier said the current outbreak is different to anything she has seen before including the H1N1 outbreak. “It is unprecedented. Senior colleagues have described it as a once in a lifetime event. I have never seen something like this in my 15 years of practice,” she said.

Photo:Leah Farrell
Photo:Leah Farrell

The infectious disease consultant believes that Ireland is about two weeks behind what we are seeing in Italy where more than 10,000 cases have so far been reported. She says efforts need to be stepped up here sooner rather than later to tackle the spread of the disease.

“I think if Italy had its time back it may have acted sooner [to prevent the spread],” she said. “In Wuhan, measures described as draconian were introduced sooner but have been effective. We do need to listen to public health doctors,” Dr Sadlier added: “the window is very narrow in which we have to act.” Dr Sadlier said it is important to follow the advice of the Chief Medical Officer who is being advised on this by experts, but said social distancing measures have an important role. Such measures could include cancelling mass gatherings, concerts, and community events like mass.

“Youghal cancelled its parade before there was a directive and we have seen groups being proactive and cancelling things like conferences,” she said.

“If we introduce measures earlier rather than later, we may avert more consequences like deaths or bad outcomes. I hope we look back and say we introduced measures too early,” she added.

Dr Sadlier said that while the outbreak will inevitably put a strain on the health service, that staff at every level are coming together to make sure they can respond to the outbreak. “I want to reassure people that the hospitals are doing absolutely everything we can to look after patients who are infected and to continue to provide services for other patients. People are working around the clock. I have never seen things progress so quickly. Comradery is at its highest level,” she said.

“The community also has a huge part to play and already we have seen changes in people’s behaviour. All these things are so important. We need to take the advice of the HSE and we need to all come together. There needs to be solidarity between the health service and the community.”

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