Ireland is in the midst of a “multitude of second ripples” of Covid-19 which will continue for some time, an infectious diseases expert has warned.
Professor Sam McConkey, head of the department of international health and tropical Medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland, suggested the “ripples” — rather than a second wave — could be contained with strict public health measures.
“We are having little outbreaks in a building site here, in another workplace there… we are already seeing multiple second ripples, and we need in place really effective ways of getting testing, getting contact tracing done and maintaining the strict self isolation and then changes to the workplace and changes to people’s activity so people don’t spread it.”
Mr McConkey said the ripples of infection “unfortunately will continue” for some time.
However, in comparison, a fresh wave of the disease spreading rapidly through the population would be “a national disaster”, he added.
“I would be horrified if we were back where we were in March or April,” he said.
“That would be a national disaster. It would mean we learned nothing from the first time. It would be a catastrophe if that were to happen. Ending up like New York or Milan is definitely not a risk we want to take.”
One of the most recent “ripples” was at a pet food factory in Co Kildare, where 200 staff were sent home when it was shut down at the start of the week.
Irish Dog Foods, in Naas, said a number of our employees tested positive for Covid-19, all of them now self isolating.
“We are working closely with the Health Service Executive and will continue to follow their advice at all times in how we manage this issue,” a spokesman said.
“In consultation with the HSE, we have closed the facility in question to enable a deep cleaning to be carried out.”
Mr McConkey’s assessment follows remarks on Wednesday by Margaret Harris, spokeswoman for the World Health Organisation, that the pandemic is “going to be one big wave” rather than a series of waves.
“It’s going to go up and down a bit. The best thing is to flatten it and turn it into just something lapping at your feet,” she said.
Mr McConkey said if people in Ireland “keep on message and do what we have all been asked to do” then it may be possible “to have a good life, with schools and pubs and socialising going on, without a massive increase in the virus.”
A major risk of a resurgence is from people arriving into the country from abroad, he cautioned, adding that quarantine requirements need to be enforced “fairly rigidly” to control the threat.
“I think we may need to control that, we may need to police that, we may need to enforce the laws that we already have on the statute book around restricted travel on people who come in,” he told RTÉ’s Today with Sarah McInerney.
A spike in infections among younger people was down to a “diversity of reasons” including some returning from abroad “often from countries where maybe they shouldn’t have been going.”
Young people don’t always seek medical care quick enough, he added.
On pubs potentially reopening on August 10th, Mr McConkey said people need to socialise but he suggested “really strong restrictions” be enforced, taking into account the size, layout and facilities of each pub.
Padraig Cribbens, of the Vintners Federation of Ireland, said the damage to the pub trade would be “incomprehensible” if they are not allowed to throw their doors open again next week.
“There is no business that can survive being closed for five months and beyond,” he said.
Mr Cribbens said 20,000 jobs in pubs alone as well as many others in related industries were at stake.
The “anguish” pub owners are struggling with could not be underestimated, he added.
On Garda figures showing a small number of licensed premises, already opened because they serve food, which were found to be flouting regulations to stem the pandemic, he said it was a “very small cohort” who should “feel the full force of the law”.
“I do believe it is the right time (to reopen pubs), and I do believe the guidelines will be followed,” he said, adding that the guidelines needed to be issued this week to allow pubs get ready in time.
Mr Cribbens also repeated calls for people to be allowed to sit at the bar under strict conditions.
“We are not looking for a free for all at the bar. We recognise that if seating at the bar is allowed, there needs to be social distancing, there needs to be protection for people behind the bar,” he said.
“It is inherent and intrinsic to the bar experience in Ireland. A lot of people almost have their own stools at the bar in country areas, and that is something that must be respected and it can be done in a safe manner.”