Ireland should prepare for pandemics every 5-10 years, disease expert says


A detailed public health plan is needed to ensure the state is fully prepared for future pandemics that are expected to occur every five years, said infectious disease expert Professor Sam McConkey.

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit Ireland in 2020, the Irish government dealt with the emergency using a “flu plan”, unlike Asian countries which had already experienced these SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreaks ) and had detailed programs ready to be implemented, he said.

“I think we need to learn public health planning. I am delighted that there is now a public health specialist who is developing plans to deal with future public health and health emergencies … we need them for the future for about 15 or 20 different emergencies,” said said Professor McConkey on RTÉ’s Brendan O’Connor programme. .

The west of Ireland experienced ‘CoV-1 SARS’ briefly in 2003 when someone tested positive for the virus, he said. “But the good people of Galway put that person who had it in one room and it didn’t spread any further. So they did very well. And it stopped that person spreading widely in the community.

Meanwhile, medical experts have spent years working on outbreaks such as Lassa fever and Ebola in West African countries.

“There have been several pandemics, but none of them have really come to Ireland as much as this SARS,” Prof McConkey said. “A lot of us have faced four or five pandemics in our working lives, so I think we should expect one every 5, 10, 15 years.”

Asked if the National Public Health Emergency Team’s decision to end mandatory mask-wearing on public transport and in shops was tantamount to letting the virus ‘tear apart’ the population, Prof. McConkey said this was an “oversimplification” of the situation.

“I think if we listen carefully [chief medical officer] Tony Holohan, he says we should move from regulating the wearing of masks in these places like schools, public transport and jobs to guidance. So he always advises us to do it. And I have no doubt that many of us will continue to do so.

“It is now advisable and recommended to wear a mask.”

Letting the virus “rip apart” the population would be a very bad idea for the most vulnerable, he added.

“Unfortunately, many of us suffer from chronic diseases and do not have a good immune system because we take steroids or biological therapies and all kinds of treatments or transplants. And these people are very vulnerable to contracting Covid. It is necessary to protect the vulnerable in our society.

The wearing of masks, improved personal protective equipment (PPE) and regular testing for Covid-19 will also continue in hospitals and changes in the management of nursing homes will also remain in place, he added. .

Measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing will be “voluntary on the advice rather than this authoritative overbearing model” going forward, he said.

“I think it’s a very good decision. It means we kept our civility, we kept our good ways of interacting with each other… We didn’t argue as a nation, we managed to keep the dialogue going.

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