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Footfall returning to Grafton Street in Dublin yesterday as shops re-opened. Leon Farrell/
lifting restrictions

'We mean what they've done in New Zealand': Irish scientists tell government of need to 'crush' the virus now

An open letter from a number of leading scientists and academics urged the government to prioritise crushing the virus.

A LEADING EPIDEMIOLOGIST has said that there isn’t a “magic wand” that will reduce the number of Covid-19 cases in Ireland to zero, but it’s vital that all efforts are made to “crush” the virus now as we face into some restrictions continuing into the future.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Professor Anthony Staines from DCU said that eliminating the virus is the best measure in reducing a “major crisis that’s cut right across our economy to an important but manageable public health issue”. 

Professor Staines was commenting following an open letter from a number of Ireland’s leading scientists and academics yesterday which called on the government to rethink its current strategy when it came to handling the effects of Covid-19. 

The government had said on Friday that Ireland would re-opening at an accelerated pace than had originally been indicated, with Phase Two seeing many return to work earlier than expected yesterday. 

The letter said: “Now we have come to a watershed moment, a fork in our road. 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 lock-downs 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’.

It asks “what will normal look like” if the virus continues to circulate, with public transport, pubs, restaurants, schools and others all at reduced capacity due to the proposed restrictions in place. 

“The costs of childcare, already high, will be impossible for many. Many workplaces will need expensive re-design. Many people will drop out, or be pushed out of the labour force. All of these are real costs, and will, we believe, far exceed the short-term costs of lockdown.”

Professor Staines said this morning that what the academics are calling for was “pretty much what they’ve done in New Zealand”.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a lifting of Covid-19 restrictions as there were no active cases in the country

“They’re now in a position to relax all the restrictions and essentially go back to normal life,” Staines said.

The measures he and the other academics suggest to ensure the virus is “crushed” include an emphasis on a very quick process of testing and tracing, encouraging the wearing of masks and testing people at airports.

He said: “The whole objective is to avoid the long-term costs of having coronavirus circulating in our community.”

While pointing that Ireland’s cases had fallen to the extent that they’re now “close to zero”, Staines singled out countries such as Greece, Iceland, Norway and Finland for prioritising eliminating the virus before moving to a larger easing of restrictions. 

This isn’t a wave the magic wand and we go to zero. It’s a process… We can do it and the steps are affordable. 

When asked about the open letter at the Department of Health briefing last night, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said that public health authorities had been clear from the beginning that the priority was to “minimise the number of cases to as low as it can possibly go”.

He said that Covid-19 couldn’t be eliminated in the same fashion that illnesses such as polio could be. 

Dr Holohan added that they felt “it’s the right time to ease restrictions” and the situation would be monitored closely going forward.

Note: This article was amended to say that a number of Ireland’s leading scientists and academics signed an open letter to the government. A previous version stated that 1,000 leading academics and scientists had signed the letter.

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