'Saving Christmas was a fallacy, it was never going to happen': Cork experts explore Zero Covid strategy

'Saving Christmas was a fallacy, it was never going to happen': Cork experts explore Zero Covid strategy

Cork city streets during the current Covid lockdown. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

The Government hasn't got their mind around a long-term Covid-19 strategy according to a respiratory consultant based in Cork.

Cork-based professors and consultants have explored the potential of a Zero Covid strategy in Ireland during an online conference hosted by UCC’s Medical Research and Technology Society.

Speaking during the online conference recently, Director of Molecular Virology Diagnostics and Research Laboratory Professor Liam Fanning, Respiratory Consultant and Pulmonologist at the Bon Secours Hospital Dr Oisín O’Connell and Professor of Epidemiology at UCC’s School of Public Health and Independent Scientific Advocacy Group (ISAG) member Professor Patricia Kearney spoke of where we are now as a country, where the Government can improve on decisions that have been made to date and the potential to adopt an elimination strategy.

Respiratory Consultant and Pulmonologist Dr Oisín O’Connell said that the Government hasn't got their mind around a long term strategy at all and said that “this concept of not understanding the consequences of opening up for Christmas and the repercussions for 2021 is mind boggling”.

He said that we can learn a lot from the pandemic, learn how better decisions can be made and how better Government policy can be made by breaking down barriers and preventing silo thinking and the inability to cohere as groups for the greater good of society.

“I don't think public health was given enough ability to influence policy, some of the very basic rules of public health were absolutely forgotten.

“It's completely obvious in terms of restricting intercounty movement, in terms of dispersion and how the virus spreads. So, the fact that people could go from Dublin to Mayo and Galway and seed new infections and dispersion is a sign that there was very poor strategic thinking and there was an incredibly poor understanding of the interplay between economics and suppressing the virus.

“There seemed to be this perception that one was playing off against the other whereas we can see by opening up at Christmas that we are now suffering a six to eight month lockdown ahead. These kinds of decisions showed that there are rash decisions being made and that it isn't actually strategic, there was never actually a good long-term cohesive strategic plan."

Professor Liam Fanning echoed Dr O'Connell's concerns in relation to the Government’s decision to reopen at Christmas saying that the decision was “very disingenuous” and that it was “done for all the wrong reasons”.

“Saving Christmas was a fallacy, it was never going to happen,” he said.

Professor Fanning also spoke of the “good news” surrounding the rollout of the vaccine with data from Israel showing that the vaccine will reduce and prevent infection of Covid-19.

As of February 15, data collected by one of Israel’s major health insurance agencies showed that of the 523,000 vaccinated individuals, only .1% became infected post-vaccination, compared to the 628,000 unvaccinated, of which 18,425 became infected (2.9%).

Of the vaccinated, 15 people were hospitalised, four required critical care and nobody died and the percentage hospitalised requiring critical care out of the vaccinated was .0008%.

Professor Fanning said that there needs to be guidance put in place in Ireland for those who are vaccinated and that “we need a concept of vaccine pods and we need to release the vaccinated”.

He said that people “need to live despite the virus not with the virus” and that “a coherent evidence-based strategy” in relation to allowing those who are vaccinated to mix is needed.

Speaking on how to implement a Zero Covid strategy, ISAG member Professor Patricia Kearney said that geographical control is the way in which to prevent the virus from spreading from one person to another but that “a lot of things we need to do to get to elimination are the things that we’re doing anyway”.

She said that she is “surprised” that the Government has continued to use ‘Living with Covid’ as its strategic approach but said that she is not giving up hope that the Government will be convinced that there is a different way to do things.

She said that she does not know why the Government has been resistant to ISAG’s recommendations as “a lot of the steps that will get us to elimination are the same” and that ISAG is not proposing “a totally different approach”.

Professor Kearney said that she believes that there has been a shift in the public’s perception of a Zero Covid strategy and that there is an “increasing acknowledgment that this strategy has worked in a range of different places”, not just in isolated islands but in larger countries such as Australia and New Zealand.

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