Leading experts in public health have joined forces to canvass public support for tighter restrictions across the island of Ireland to “crush” Covid-19 and eliminate the risk of further outbreaks and lockdowns into the future.
Professors Anthony Staines from Dublin City University and Gerry Killeen from University College Cork have teamed up with assistant professor Tomás Ryan from Trinity College Dublin to launch an online campaign urging the Government to switch from a strategy of 'living with Covid-19' to trying to eradicate the virus.
The experts in public health and infection control said there is a “precious window of opportunity” to change tack and “crush” Covid-19 as other countries like South Korea, New Zealand, Australia, Austria, Greece, China, and Iceland have done.
In an open letter that will be sent to Health Minister Simon Harris among others next week, the experts said the next few weeks offer a “decisive moment in the history of our island” to adopt a co-ordinated all-island approach to eradicate the virus.
“The path we choose will determine our future for years to come. Our current policy is to live with the virus under a long-term mitigation strategy, with the risk of future surges and lockdowns until when, or if, a vaccine becomes available.
"We have another option: We can do as many other countries have done, choose to suppress and eliminate this virus - ‘Crushing the Curve’,” wrote the academics.
“We propose that the two governments on the island of Ireland immediately adopt a full-scale policy of suppression, and start working on a suitable strategy for both our countries."
The current approach of living with the virus, they said, will mean “extensive and expensive restrictions” for the foreseeable future, with the ‘new norm’ reducing capacity to 20% on public transport, to 30% in pubs and restaurants, and to 50% in schools.
Prof Staines said the goal is to get to zero cases of Covid-19 and that this could be achieved over the summer.
Universal use of face masks indoors, more rigorous tracing of people coming into the country, and managing clusters in nursing homes and other settings are critical to achieving that goal, he said.
“We’re now through the emergency phase. It’s now time to sit down and make some decisions,” said Prof Staines.
“We don’t have all the answers but we think it would be a mistake not to look at this, not to ask ourselves can we do something now that might make a big difference to our country,” he said.
“If we don’t ask these questions we could end up in a situation where we end up with permanent restrictions for maybe years to come,” he said.
The open letter will be sent to the health minister, National Public Health Emergency Team, and the Oireachtas committee on Covid-19 next week.
Members of the public can respond to the campaign by logging onto https://dcusnhs.eu.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_3PGSO5vFIOec9Nz.