'I didn’t think this would happen in my lifetime'; World-renowned expert on Covid frontline in Cork 

'I didn’t think this would happen in my lifetime'; World-renowned expert on Covid frontline in Cork 
Professor Mary Horgan, President of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland.

A world-renowned infectious diseases expert has warned that we will be “living with Covid rather than after Covid for some time”.

President of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI), Cork-based consultant Professor Mary Horgan, recently returned to work at the frontline of the outbreak at CUH.

The former Dean of the School of Medicine at UCC, said: “When this happened, and I didn’t think this would happen in my lifetime, I felt it was critical for me to come back and help here.”

Prof Horgan was the first person to be appointed as an infectious disease consultant in the south of the country, and spent part of her career working in the US during the worst years of the AIDS crisis.

She also has experience of dealing with infectious diseases such as SARS and ebola, but says the Covid-19 outbreak is very different.

The queue for the local bank in Fermoy, Co Cork. Picture Dan Linehan
The queue for the local bank in Fermoy, Co Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

“What’s different is the acuteness and suddenness that it came about,” she said.

“It impacts on absolutely everyone. It’s how unusually it presents, with 80% of people having a relatively mild illness, 20% being hospitalised, and around 5% of these patients becoming critically ill.

“It’s the unpredictable nature — the effect on healthy young people, people in their 30s,40s, 50s, 60s, who become very unwell, very quickly.”

While the number of people being diagnosed with Covid-19 in Ireland continues to rise, there are a number of positive signs in the outbreak.

“The interventions that were made by the Government really have worked, people are following the guidelines. Had we not done that, the situation here would be more like the US or the UK.”

A man wearing a protective mask and gloves walks past a pharmacy displaying Coronavirus/Covid-19 posters. Picture: Andy Gibson
A man wearing a protective mask and gloves walks past a pharmacy displaying Coronavirus/Covid-19 posters. Picture: Andy Gibson

She pointed out how the R0 number, which relates to a person’s ability to infect other people if they are sick was now down to around one from three.

“What this means is that instead of infecting around three people, we are infecting one person,” she said.

It is hoped this number can be reduced even further.

Prof Horgan also pointed out how the numbers relating to the volume of patients in critical care had flattened in the last week.

“The big question now is how we can lift some of the restrictions,” she said.

Earlier this week, a number of schools in Denmark re-opened their doors for the first time in a month.

Prof Horgan said it was difficult to say whether some schools could re-open here in a similar way, but that Ireland will be looking closely at how things are being done in countries like Denmark and Austria.

“It will be good to see what the experience is there,” she said.

“When it is done here, it will be done in a very cautious way. There will be a slow, stepwise, carefully-monitored lifting of the restrictions here.

Two people relax together on a bench overlooking Cork Harbour in the bright sunshine on Saturday in Kennedy Park, Cobh. Pic Larry Cummins
Two people relax together on a bench overlooking Cork Harbour in the bright sunshine on Saturday in Kennedy Park, Cobh. Pic Larry Cummins

“It is important to understand that while the surge is prevented at this time, we will be living with Covid rather than after Covid for some time.”

Prof Horgan said that while she was hopeful things would go back to relative normality, that it was likely the pandemic would change the way we socialised and the way we work in the future.

For now though, she said the key message is that people need to “hang in there”.

“What people are doing is absolutely making a difference,” she said.

“I know it’s hard, but you are saving lives. The quicker we get this under control, the sooner we can get back to normal.”

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