Cork professor: We can get Covid to zero if we extend lockdown

Cork professor: We can get Covid to zero if we extend lockdown

Professor Ivan Perry, Dean of Public Health at University College Cork, who is a member of the Zero Covid Island group has said that Taoiseach Micheál Martin’s comments to The Echo regarding a zero Covid strategy being a “permanent lockdown” were a misinterpretation of the approach to curbing the virus.

ZERO Covid could be achieved in Ireland in three months if we continue the lockdown, a UCC expert has said.

Professor Ivan Perry, Dean of Public Health at University College Cork, who is a member of the Zero Covid Island group has said that Taoiseach Micheál Martin’s comments to The Echo regarding a zero Covid strategy being a “permanent lockdown” were a misinterpretation of the approach to curbing the virus.

Mr Martin stands by the Government’s decision to continue living with Covid and said he believes a zero Covid approach would mean that, “as soon as Ireland comes out of it you’re back open to the potential of the disease coming back in again because of our geography.”

He added: “We’re going for prolonged suppression of the virus now. We have vaccines now which will help to give us choices in time.”

However, Prof Perry said: “The whole point is to set a clear policy of aggressive suppression of the virus with a target of zero. The reality is living with the virus is going to leave us in lockdown or near lockdown or yo-yoing for a much longer time than a zero Covid strategy.”

The UCC professor said the country is currently at 1,000 cases a day and another 6-8 weeks would get that down to single figures.

“The question is what do we do then — relax measures or hold out for a few weeks of no cases?” asked Prof Perry.

He said it is very important that the Covid debate does not become a “combat of slogans” but highlighted that the Covid strategy is short-term pain for long-term gain.

“The idea of zero Covid is not to stay in lockdown forever, the whole point is to get Covid to zero and keep it there. It is a difference in mindset and if we have learned anything over these past months, it is that living with Covid doesn’t work.

“I know people are saying we have the vaccine now, but we could have one or two more nasty waves before we feel the full impact of the vaccine. Also, there is an increasing risk of other strains emerging.

“We are all delighted about the vaccine, but we can’t put all our eggs in the vaccine basket. We still have to do what we can.”

Prof. Ivan Perry, Professor of Public Health at UCC.
Prof. Ivan Perry, Professor of Public Health at UCC.

In terms of what should be done, Prof Perry had some suggestions.

He called on the Government to invest in public health infrastructure and the public health medical department as well as introducing mandatory quarantine for those travelling into the country.

“There is not much point in the Government and the zero Covid campaign having a shouting match.

“We want to get the Covid numbers down and we want the public infrastructure to be improved so we can keep it down and mandatory quarantining to keep it out of the country.”

He said the issue of having a land border is just “an excuse”.

“The border with Northern Ireland is a problem, but it can be overcome. Every country has its own unique problems. We are acting as if we are the only country with a border.”

He said, from what he could see, the message of zero Covid is being well received.

“I think the message is getting through; most people say a mandatory quarantine should be necessary for all countries and most people accept the need to invest in the public health medicine department. That is our first line of defence.”

The UCC professor said that while it is a struggle for people to continue to live in isolation and in bubbles, part of the mental health issue is a lack of intent on the part of the Government.

“The Government have no strategy, they are just reacting,” he said.

“There is a danger that if we ease off too quickly, we will be back in another peak of infection in the summer or autumn.

“If we attempt to live with the virus, we will spend much longer in lockdown.”

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