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'Dates don't drive anything': WHO's Mike Ryan urges Irish public not to focus on when country could reopen

The WHO emergencies expert believes Ireland’s case numbers are too high.

Image: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

THE WORLD HEALTH Organisation’s top emergencies expert has warned that the high number of Covid-19 cases in Ireland means the government has little option but to persist with current health restrictions.

Dr Mike Ryan also encouraged people to focus on personal behaviours that limit the spread of the virus, rather than trying to predict when certain restrictions could be lifted.

He told RTÉ’s News at One programme that the alternative to carefully re-opening the country was a scenario in which restrictions were lifted too quickly and the country “lurched back” into another lockdown.

“I know the government is looking at a plan for living with Covid. I’ve been saying that myself for quite a while now: we need to get on top of the virus, get in control of this virus and move to a longer-term plan to [...] stop the death and the hosptialisations,” he said.

“Once we stop deaths and hospitalisations, this virus becomes a more normal threat and we can deal with it in a more rational and structured way, and we will have more choices to open up.”

However, Ryan suggested that the current number of cases in Ireland was too high to allow restrictions to be loosened when the government unveils its updated Living with Covid plan tomorrow.

Health officials reported 679 cases of the virus yesterday, with 988 new cases reported on Saturday and 763 new cases on Friday.

Speaking last week, Professor Philip Nolan of NPHET’s Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group explained that recent drops in daily case numbers and rates of hospitalisations were beginning to plateau.

It was also confirmed that the UK variant B117, which is up to 70% more transmissible than previous strains, accounts for around 90% of cases in Ireland.

“I don’t believe that leaves the government right now with many choices with that number of cases a day,” Ryan said.

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“The positivity rate though is dropping; hospitalisations are dropping. The signs are good, but not quite good enough to give the government freedom of choice right now.”

Ryan urged the public to work collectively to drive case numbers down, rather than considering when restrictions might change at a certain point in the future. 

“The dates don’t drive anything; what drives decision-making is numbers: the number of cases, the number of deaths, the trajectory of the epidemic,” he said.

“And it’s in everyone’s control, at some level, to drive that number down. Every contact you make socially, every time you do something that’s risky, you potentially could add to those numbers.

“Every time you make a smart choice, you take away from those numbers. And I think we need that collective effort.”

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