Eliminating COVID-19 from Ireland requires just a little more effort

By: July 6, 2020
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Ireland is ‘nearly there’ and eliminating COVID-19 from Ireland during the summer is possible. Driving the virus from Ireland would require ‘only a modest amount of additional effort’ according to new modelling analyses conducted by infectious disease professor Gerry Killeen.

Prof Killeen, the AXA Research Chair in Applied Pathogen Ecology at University College Cork, warns that repeatedly imposing, lifting and re-imposing restrictions to simply suppress the epidemic until it [hopefully] burns itself is a ‘dangerous gamble’.

“The quiet tail of a fading epidemic may be just as dangerous as the silent onset,” Prof Killeen advises. He suggests Ireland should learn from countries with formidable national strategies to crush the curve of their pandemics, such as Japan and Australia.

“With their approaches of sustained and uninterrupted restrictions, their timelines to that ‘exit point’ are about three months. New Zealand is already there.”

“Countries like Ireland, France, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom, where daily rates have been slowly falling, may well have achieved 80% suppression of transmission.

“Their epidemics could slowly fizzle away if current measures were maintained, so why would these countries not build upon their successes by pushing even just a little further past this crucial tipping point?”

We can’t let this run on for years
Incomplete suppression of the epidemic means COVID-19 “could establish itself as a permanent disease with unpredictable waves every few years”, says Killeen.

“On the economic front, incomplete suppression of the virus means extending the damage over years rather than months.”

Bold and brave or slow and defensive?
If there was a national and international attempt to crush the virus it would need a “dramatic rethink of our national strategy, broad support from the public at large, and cooperation with our trading partners across Europe and the rest of the world”.

“It is essential for policy-makers, health professionals, journalists and the general public that as many people as possible understand the stark consequences of the choices ahead of them,” says Killeen.

“Eliminating the virus within months would require only a modest amount of additional effort. As in any competitive sport, playing a long drawn out defensive game against an unpredictable, fast-moving, adaptable and unrelenting opponent is asking for trouble.”

What about the airports?
The simple fact is this: once we have eliminated the virus and relaxed domestic restrictions, even the slightest easing of travel or importation controls will cause a rebound.

“Complete elimination of the virus can only be sustained by preventing reintroduction from outside of the country,” says Killeen. “This means isolation of all incoming travellers, except those coming from countries that may be certified as free of local transmission by WHO in the future. Otherwise, the implications of such an uncontained rebound are the same as doing nothing in the first place.

“Unless we all respond constructively to the WHO’s appeal for genuine national unity and global solidarity it appears unlikely that we can defeat the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Prof Killeen’s findings have been recently published in the journals Infectious Disease Modelling and the European Journal of Epidemiology.