Infections expert: 'The benefits for children of going back to sport far outweigh the risks'

Infections expert: 'The benefits for children of going back to sport far outweigh the risks'
Dublin hurler Danny Sutcliffe with youngsters at a GAA Cul Camp in 2018Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

The GAA’s return to training and games is being facilitated by a combination of factors, according to a leading expert in the area.

Hand-washing, cough etiquette and social distancing have all been key factors allowing a return to Gaelic games action, says Professor Mary Horgan, who is the infectious diseases expert on the GAA COVID Advisory Committee, President of the Royal College of Physicians, and consultant physician in Infectious Diseases and Internal Medicine at CUH.

“The key change is the dramatic reduction in the number of cases around the country,” said Horgan yesterday.

“They peaked in April but since then the number of cases has decreased.

“Why is this? Because of non-pharmaceutical interventions, the things we did as people. Washing hands, social distancing, cough etiquette and more recently face masks in crowded conditions.

“In addition there’s the testing and tracing and isolating of those with the virus — so it’s a combination of things, not any individual thing.” 

Horgan, speaking to the GPA’s The Player’s Voice podcast, added: “Playing outdoors versus indoors, or activities outdoors versus indoors — there’s probably about a twentyfold lower risk of getting Covid, which is huge.

“With the fresh air, the wind blowing, your chances of picking up the virus are much lower than in a closed environment. That’s important to emphasise.” 

Regarding the return of Cúl Camps for children, Horgan said: “First, the importance of physical activity for children is so important.

“A lot of information is coming from the science community on the impact of the virus on children and adolescents, and numerous studies show their risk of either getting the infection, or even on the occasions when they get it, they do not seem to have any bad impact.

“Talking to colleagues in pediatric and infections diseases, they just don’t see it — they aren't coming to hospitals. There’s a syndrome that can occur but it’s really, really uncommon and is treatable.

“You can’t keep social distancing kids because they’re going to run around together, but the impact of Covid is so, so low — they’re in a very low-risk group.

“Based on the knowledge we have at this point in time, the benefits for children of going back to sport without social distancing far outweigh the risks. All my colleagues in paediatrics in the College of Physicians would absolutely support that.” 

Significant percentages of the GPA and WGPA membership expressed reservations about returning to play, particularly those living with people in an at-risk group.

“I get the same kinds of questions from people going back to work,” said Horgan.

“It’s the same as teachers going back to school — when you come home it’s about washing your hands, not having a shower in the sports facility but at home, and getting tested if you have symptoms.

“That’s how you protect the other people (at home). It’s not specific to sport, it’s the same for people returning to work. The message to date has been one of fear and concern, particularly as medical professionals weren’t absolutely sure whether we were all in the same boat in terms of risk.

“Now we know a lot more, 100 days later, than we did when the lockdown came in Ireland.” 

Asked why mass sporting participation can be allowed here without the testing seen in professional sports overseas, Horgan said: “When it comes to testing, that’s really good with coronavirus — if you have symptoms.

“That’s the nasal swab but if you’re using it as a screening test, as with cervical or bowel screening, your chances of getting a positive test in the absence of symptoms is very, very low.

“It’s only one point in time, so I could be exposed today, I could be swabbed and my test might be negative. Seven days’ time I could be swabbed and the test might be positive.

“That testing is not a screening tool, it’s to diagnose the infection. The testing in Australia of the Tyrone player (Conor McKenna) — there was some question of whether that was a false positive. The disruption that that can cause, and did cause, in Australian Rules — everything got stopped. Did it need to stop? Maybe not, if it was a false positive.” 

She added that the risk was “low” of the virus remaining on footballs and sliotars: “I spoke to my colleague Professor Martin Cormican, he’s a clinical microbiologist and he said that after a game you wash the equipment and let it dry, and it’s (the virus) unlikely to stay on the surfaces for any period of time.

“It’s probably what we should have been doing all the time, cleaning equipment and reducing the spread of any infection.”  

More in this Section

Frank Lampard adamant he can solve Chelsea’s defensive woesFrank Lampard adamant he can solve Chelsea’s defensive woes

James McClean questions Irish teammates' attitude to discriminationJames McClean questions Irish teammates' attitude to discrimination

We’ll put it right – Solskjaer backs United to bounce back from Saints setbackWe’ll put it right – Solskjaer backs United to bounce back from Saints setback

McClean questions Irish teammates' attitude to discriminationMcClean questions Irish teammates' attitude to discrimination


The world is in chaos and fascism is on the march. But enough about 2020 – what about America in 1940?The Plot Against America: Sky Atlantic series shows a parallel history that has echoes of today's world

Ubisoft has given us a look of some of their upcoming releasesGame Tech: A glimpse of Far Cry 6 and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla

Exfoliating cleansers are the first step in upgrading your skincare routine.The Skin Nerd: How to get active when it comes to cleansing

The arrival of the new baby has led to a tricky family dynamic in the Cork-set show, writes Georgia HumphreysBaby's arrival leads to more adventures as the Young Offenders return

More From The Irish Examiner