All-Ireland opportunity to eliminate virus ‘could be wasted’

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A medical expert has said that with infection rates in decline, the island of Ireland now has an opportunity to eliminate the coronavirus.

Professor of General Practice Liam Glynn told Newstalk that Ireland should not be satisfied with only lowering the level of Covid-19 transmission.

He noted that Ireland has an advantage in combating the virus as it is an island. He said: “We have come a long way in terms of the flattening the curve, and all the signals in terms of hospitalisations and intensive care admissions all seem to be dropping. The question now is where we are going?

“It is not just enough to flatten the curve, in my view, I think we really need to be talking about crushing this curve and trying to eliminate Covid-19 entirely.”

Prof Glynn said that once eliminated, the virus could easily be prevented from recurring.

“We have the advantage of trying to figure out how we do trade and travel across a border, and how we do it safely. If we go for elimination, the only way the virus can get on to this island is by importation.”

The relatively swift containment of the virus in Ireland relative to other nations is believed to be due in part to our small island geography. A plan for complete elimination would require greatly increased co-operation between the administrations in Dublin and Belfast.

Photographs which appeared this week of a crowded flight coming into Belfast from London, the virus’s epicentre, showed the threat still being posed by the disease.

Even the North’s unionist Health Minister in Belfast, Robin Swann, said he was “shocked” by images showing an almost full cabin with no social distancing arriving from Heathrow, in flagrant violation of the lockdown.

There is a consensus among scientists that an all-island approach to tracking, tracing and isolating the virus is vital to a successful recovery, but this does not seem to be getting consideration by politicians.

The failure of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to give details to Stormont of his government’s lockdown exit measures has also not helped prepare Ireland for the coming months.

Residents living in counties on either side of the border face trying to navigate two completely different systems of coronavirus containment on a daily basis.

The Six County First and Deputy First Ministers, Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill, said they were unaware of the details of Dublin’s five-stage lockdown strategy before it was made public by Varadkar last weekend.

Border residents will have been further aggrieved by comments from minister Regina Doherty, who consciously ignored Irish citizens living in the Six Counties when she spoke about “the Irish people”.

On Varadkar’s lockdown announcement, she defended not sharing advance details with Stormont. She said: “Our most important task to do after we had our cabinet meeting was to tell the Irish people, and that’s what the Taoiseach did.”

There are fears Fine Gael’s animosity to Sinn Féin in Dublin is prejudicing its cooperation with the Stormont administration in Belfast.

Sinn Féin senator Niall Ó Donnghaile said: “It is quite astonishing that in 2020, ministers, albeit in a caretaker capacity, would need to be reminded that they serve Irish citizens throughout Ireland and indeed throughout the world.

“Regina Doherty’s comments reflect a worrying culture amongst some in Merrion Street, which runs contrary to the Good Friday Agreement, the constitution and the practical need for coordinated, shared and all-Ireland approaches to our health and well-being in the current Covid-19 crisis.

“Regina Doherty should reflect on her remarks this morning and apologise for the hurt and offence caused. Irish citizens in the North will not be ignored, dismissed or left behind.”

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