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Further coronavirus waves likely without 'new approach' after this cycle

Researchers have suggested the current cycle in Ireland should end by the middle of June, but immunity in the community may be low.

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RESEARCHERS HAVE SAID further epidemic waves of Covid-19 are likely in Ireland after this current cycle ends and a targeted testing regime will be vital after restrictions are relaxed.

Results of a study published today by King’s College London, which looked at seven countries including Ireland, indicate a large proportion of the total population (possibly more than 80%) will remain without immunity to Covid-19 after the current wave of infection.

“This suggests that in the absence of strong seasonal effects, new medications or more comprehensive contact tracing, a further set of epidemic waves in different geographic centres are likely. These findings may have implications for ‘exit strategies’ from any lockdown stage,” the study says.

Speaking to RTÉ’s Seán O’Rourke about the research today, Dr Rosalyn Moran of King’s College London said the term ‘herd immunity’ is not a strategy but describes how transmission is dampened down when there is more potential immunity in the country.

“If we have a lot more people potentially ready to infect again, what we might see is more cycles without a new approach after this cycle,” she said. 

Moran said the current restrictions have given Ireland “breathing room” to bring infection to a manageable level.

She echoed comments made by health officials here that if Ireland keeps the reproduction number – the number of other people infected by a person who has Covid-19 – below one the virus can be suppressed. She said if that happens, the current cycle should end by the middle of June.

It is expected that testing criteria will be expanded again before the 5 May deadline for current restrictions and health officials have said they are putting plans in place so they can better track the virus in the community.

Dr Moran said community testing will have to “get focused so we’re literally following little outbreaks in communities very carefully so we don’t have this widespread outbreak we saw from February to March”. 

She said Ireland could see multiple periods of lockdown over the next 18 months to two years in the “worst case scenario”. 

Moran said their model estimates a total of 1,200 deaths in Ireland by the end of this cycle, but cautioned none of the findings of this mathematical model are “a foregone conclusion”. 

Yesterday, Health Minister Simon Harris said he was concerned that “some complacency” is becoming apparent in the response of Irish people to the Covid-19 crisis.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar this morning said he shares the minister’s concerns.

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“Certainly anecdotally speaking to people there does appear in the last couple of days to have been an increase in traffic and an increase in people out and about,” he said.

It’s okay for people to be out and about as long as they observe social distancing, it’s okay for people to travel provided those journeys are necessary and essential. But we do have a concern – not yet backed up by numbers, we may have numbers later today – that there has been a little bit of complacency setting in.

“That does worry is because we are making real progress in terms of reducing the rate at which the virus is spreading,” Varadkar said. 

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