Several leading public health, science and medical experts have urged the Government to take “immediate and decisive” action to crush the coronavirus here amid fears the country is facing a second wave of Covid-19.
Their call for a Zero-Covid Island status comes ahead of today's Cabinet meeting which will consider advice from NPHET in advance of phase 4 of the easing of Covid-19 restrictions next Monday.
The reopening of pubs is in doubt after senior government ministers expressed serious doubt last night that the country will move to phase 4, indicating that the Cabinet will adopt a “very cautious” approach.
They told the Irish Examiner that an increase in the reproduction rate of the coronavirus in recent days, tied to concerns about large public gatherings, are “weighing heavily on minds”.
In their joint statement last night, the health experts set out a suite of measures they say the government should introduce to crush the virus.
“Unless we take action, at best we will have reduced economic activity and continuing disruption to our lives because of social distancing, and at worst a second surge of infections,” they said.
“Israel shows us how bad this can get. We can instead choose to follow New Zealand, to control Covid-19, drive it to zero, and open back up. It’s really our choice.
“A Zero-Covid Island is our only viable exit strategy from the ongoing Covid-19 epidemic, which may otherwise last for years or indefinitely.”
The Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) reported 32 confirmed cases of Covid-19 yesterday - the single highest daily figure since June 13. No new deaths were reported.
Ryanair has urged the government to remove all travel restrictions between Ireland and the EU, and said it plans to cancel up to 1,000 flights between Ireland and the UK during August and September because of the ongoing travel restrictions. That decision would cut by 200,000 the number of passengers going through Cork, Shannon, Knock and Kerry airports, the airline said.
But travel restrictions must be part of the Zero-Covid strategy, the experts said.
In a statement signed by experts including Dr Claire Buckley, of UCC’s School of Public Health, Prof Patrick Cunningham, former chief scientific advisor to the government, Prof Sam McConkey, president of the Infectious Disease Society of Ireland, Prof of Public Health, Ivan Perry, of UCC, Dr Tomás Ryan, Associate Professor at Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience, and independent international experts, including Prof Gabriel Scally, Prof Martin McKee, at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and Prof Michael Baker, Professor of Public Health at the University of Otago, in Wellington, New Zealand, they urged the government to take a strategic decision to deliberately push towards a Zero-Covid island.
“We need a Green Zone strategy with local relaxation of restrictions, wherever there is no community transmission, to allow return to near normal conditions in those areas,” they said.
“In those areas where community transmission continues we need to patiently maintain and enhance the hygiene, social distancing and restrictions that have taken us so far already.
“We need to normalise and legally enforce wearing masks, indoors in public spaces and outdoors in crowds. This will need political and professional leadership.
“Find, trace, track, isolate, and support cases, and close contacts.
We need proper regulation of travel and associated isolation, supplemented with repeated serial testing before release.
“We need to establish safe travel bridges to other countries that have similar Zero-Covid strategies, to extend our shared green zone strategy through international cooperation.”
They pointed to the rise in the number of new Covid-19 cases, especially amongst younger people, who are more likely to silently carry and transmit the virus.
“We are now facing the strong likelihood of an imminent second wave. There is a better alternative,” they said.
“Relaxing restrictions before we get to a Zero-Covid island risks a second wave, as seen in Israel, Serbia, Australia and Japan.
Unless we take immediate and decisive action, we will pay a very heavy price.