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'Surprising' if Ireland needs to enter second Covid-19 lockdown, says WHO special envoy

David Nabarro was speaking to the Dáil’s Covid-19 committee today.

David Nabarro, the WHO special envoy on Covid-19, largely praised Ireland's response to the pandemic.
David Nabarro, the WHO special envoy on Covid-19, largely praised Ireland's response to the pandemic.
Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

IT WOULD BE a “surprise” if Ireland needed to enter strict pandemic restrictions again, the World Health Organisation’s Special Envoy on Covid-19 has said. 

“I would find it surprising if Ireland needs to go into complete national lockdown again,” David Nabarro told the Dáil’s Covid-19 committee this morning. 

Taking part via live stream and speaking to a socially distanced Dáil Chamber, Nabarro largely praised Ireland’s response to the unprecedented pandemic. 

Responding to a question from Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy, Nabarro said that he would “find it surprising if Ireland needs to go into complete lockdown again”. 

While he predicted that Ireland might see further isolated outbreaks, he suggested that “total lockdown is highly unlikely”. 

“I think there will be local areas where perhaps clusters emerge, where for a short period of time movement restrictions will have to be imposed. But the pattern of the future will be picking up outbreaks so fast and dealing with them very quickly because of a high level of local organisation,” he said. 

Nabarro said that building up public health capacity in local areas in the area of testing and tracing should ensure that a nationwide return to the most draconian restrictions won’t be necessary. 

Questions have begun to be asked about whether Ireland, along with other European countries, is likely to face a second wave of Covid-19. Health officials here have previously said that such a scenario is not “inevitable”

Earlier this week, the chair of the Covid-19 modelling advisory group, Philip Nolan, said that Ireland needs to put contingency plans in place to deal with the possibility of a “tough scenario” in the future. 

TDs also asked Nabarro about the rate of deaths of nursing homes and residential care facilities in Ireland – a rate that has been a source of criticism for the government. A significant proportion of all the people with Covid-19 who have died have been nursing home residents. 

Nabarro, who largely praised Ireland’s response to the virus, said that the high rate might be down to Ireland’s “honest counting of numbers”.

Regarding the method of counting nursing home deaths, Nabarro said that “Ireland has the widest circle of inclusion of all the countries I’ve studied, which may be why there is a higher rate”.

He also said that Ireland moved “pretty quickly” in limiting visitors to nursing homes and in supply PPE to residential care facilities. 

“In many countries this has been quite a struggle, but Ireland seems to have done pretty well,” he said. 

“You are counting more than other countries,” he stressed. 

Nabarro also suggested that it is unrealistic to completely eliminate the virus, as some academics have suggested

“Ideally, nations try to completely suppress the virus,” he said. But he said that countries “have to be able to connect with others for business, tourism and family connections”.

“It will not be possible to completely insulate Ireland”, he said, “without putting huge constraints on the movement of people and the economy”. 

Masks 

In recent days, as Ireland embarks on Phase Two, questions have been asked about the lack of people wearing face masks on public transport and when shopping. 

Earlier this week, Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan urged more people to wear face masks in public. 

Capture Dr David Nabarro, the WHO Special Envoy on Covid-19, speaks to the Dáil committee. Source: Oireachtas

Nabarro echoed these concerns. ”We need to push from saying people should do, to saying people must do,” he said. In Ireland, masks in shops or on public transport are not mandatory. 

He indicated that making the use of masks mandatory on public transport could be an important way of curbing the spread of the virus. 

While he stressed that face masks should be part of a wider strategy, he said that masks do play an important role in preventing transmission and should be worn. 

Commenting on the question of what materials masks should be made from, Nabarro said that”what is really important is not how the mask is made, but how it’s worn”. 

He also declined to set a prescriptive recommendation on the debate on social distancing and whether a one-metre rule is sufficient to keep people safe. Instead, he stressed that it was all a “balance of risk”. 

“Please be at least one metre and if you can be two metres, that it is a really good thing to do,” he said. 

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Last night, health officials confirmed that a further five people have died from Covid-19 in Ireland, with a further 19 cases identified. 

The total number of confirmed cases here is 25,231, while the death toll from Covid-19 in Ireland is now 1,695.

New figures released this morning show that the number of close contacts of the average confirmed case of Covid-19 began to rise when the first restrictions began to lift. 

Earlier this week, the average number of close contacts rose above five while the median reached 3.5 and then four before both figures dropped again the following day. 

The public have been warned to limit their close contacts as much as possible as Ireland begins to re-open to help prevent further spread of Covid-19.

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