A longer-term Covid-19 strategy may be required for the next “three, five, seven years” because we will be living with the virus for a “long time”, medical and scientific experts told an Oireachtas committee today.
The special committee on Covid-19 heard that Ireland is at the beginning of a “second wave”, which will inevitably spread to nursing homes and more vulnerable populations unless we reduce community transmission.
“This is a medium and long-term problem and it does require community engagement and buy-in and support from all of the people in Ireland for it to work over three, five, seven years ,” RSCI Professor Sam McConkey said.
Swedish expert and former chief scientist with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, Dr Johann Giesecke, said we will be living with the virus for a 'long time': “We have to learn how to live with this virus unless a very good vaccine comes out before Easter, which I doubt."
While medical and scientific experts disagreed on the value of adopting a ‘zero Covid’ approach, all agreed that improved testing and contact tracing are vital to suppressing the virus .
Dr Giesecke proposed allowing for the "controlled spread" of Covid-19 among the younger population —under 60 years — and protecting older and more vulnerable populations but P rofessor McConkey said it wouldn't be possible in Ireland .
“Living with the SARS2 in the community is like living with a large tiger in your house. It will come back to bite you,” Prof. McConkey said.
“It will be impossible to prevent the re-entry of SARS2 into nursing homes unless we control it radically in the community,” he added.
A “much quicker and responsive system” is required at local level as part of a package of measures to contain the virus, Prof. McConkey said .
UCD Professor Kirsten Schaffer, a clinical microbiologist at St Vincent’s University Hospital, said testing capacity is not an issue but logistics around contact tracing need improvement.
She also called for more “informative, transparent, logical, and consistent” public information: “If we want to have buy-in from the whole of society we really have to change our approach and become more open and transparent.”
Trinity College Dublin's Professor of Biochemistry Tomás Ryan said I reland should consider an all-island response given that the UK is now moving towards a ‘zero Covid’ strategy.
He added that a ‘two-island’ strategy could aim for elimination of the virus.
Irish pharmaceutical companies, Professor Ryan said, should be incentivised to develop and improve Covid tests, such as rapid tests, which are currently in short supply globally.
The TCD professor said there isn't enough scientific input at government level, which could benefit from a scientific advisory committee, while a citizens assembly could facilitate discussion around the Covid strategy.