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'We couldn't have coped with further spread': Ireland's officials on why we didn't take the Swedish approach

Professor Philip Nolan said the restrictions implemented here “had an enormous effect” on the spread of the disease.

Image: RollingNews.ie

HEALTH OFFICIALS HAVE said they believe Ireland’s approach to the Covid-19 outbreak has achieved what it was designed to do and stressed that it is too early to make a fair comparison with different policies in other countries. 

At this evening’s press briefing at the Department of Health Professor Philip Nolan, who chairs the modelling advisory group, explained why Ireland did not take the same approach as Sweden, which still has schools open and has not implemented any strict measures.

The country’s government has banned visits to nursing homes and gatherings of more than 50 people, but the general approach as been to urge people to take responsibility and follow basic social distancing recommendations.

Nolan said it is important to “distinguish the headline of what’s going on in a country from how the population is actually behaving”.

“So yes, schools and so on, but the reality is that in Sweden there’s a huge amount of social distancing going on,” he said.

“As the population goes about their business they’re observing very very strong hygiene and social distancing behaviours.”

He rejected the suggested that the approach here was the wrong one.

“With many of these things you make a judgement based on the data that you have, short-term outcomes show you something and you have to wait a long time before you can say ‘would Strategy A have been better than Strategy B?’

“What we know is that the strategy we adopted here did the thing it was required to do – stop the spread of the disease in its tracks there and then, because we could not have coped with further spread of the disease, beyond where we were.”

 Nolan said looking at the bend in the curve of cases, numbers in hospitals and numbers in intensive care, the data shows that “the intervention had an enormous effect”. 

“If you’re in a position where you have a substantial amount of the disease ceded in the population, however it got there, and it’s spreading very rapidly, simple social distancing measures will not mitigate that,” he said.

011 Dept of Health briefing A chart displayed by Professor Nolan this evening. The blue line shows cases in the population - the red line shows cases among healthcare workers. Source: RollingNews.ie

“It’s quite clear that in the run up to taking those strong social distancing measures the disease was accelerating very rapidly and as soon as those measures were taken the acceleration of the disease was stopped – and that’s good news for us as a society because it means that we know that that works, when and if we’re required to do it.”

Nolan said the strategies in different countries may be appropriate to their own context and Sweden had a “significantly smaller epidemic than we were dealing with back then”. 

“We will have to wait and see what happens in Sweden over the coming weeks, just as we’re watching and seeing what will happen in Denmark, in Austria, what will happen in Germany,” he said.

The Swedish government has said it believes more than 70,000 people in the country have been infected with the coronavirus. 

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Sweden currently has a higher number of deaths per million than the US and has significantly higher numbers of deaths than other Scandinavian countries that implemented strict restrictions.

There have been more than 2,000 deaths in the country since health officials began recording numbers and there have been 16,755 confirmed cases. 

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said this evening that it is too early to conclude based on any current data which strategies were right and which ones were wrong. 

“On a continuing basis we have to learn but we’re not in a situation where we could conclude what has been done in Sweden has worked or what has been done in other countries hasn’t worked.”

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