‘Draconian’ restrictions around Covid-19 condemned by HSE doctor

Clinical director critical of media and public ‘obsession’ with daily case numbers

Covid-19 is "much less severe" than the average annual flu and current "draconian" restrictions are no longer justified, according to a senior Health Service Executive doctor.

People at low risk from the virus should be exposed to it so they can develop herd immunity and reduce the risk to vulnerable groups, according to Dr Martin Feeley, clinical director of the Dublin Midlands Hospital Group.

“That is what is happening and yet the policy seems to be to prevent it,” he says. “This should have been allowed to happen during the summer months before the annual flu season, to reduce the workload on the health service during winter months.”

Any assessment of Ireland’s strategy to combat the virus should take into account the cost to people’s quality of life, according to the former vascular surgeon, who points out that “you can’t postpone youth”.


“The financial cost can be seen in any walk or drive through cities, towns and villages. Mortgage repayments and other financial setbacks are virtually all suffered by the young worker or business person and not by the over-65, who are guaranteed their pension, as indeed are the salaries of the individuals who decide to inflict these draconian measures,” the 70 year old told The Irish Times.

Dr Feeley is critical of the media and public “obsession” with daily case numbers, when so few people are being admitted to hospital or intensive care units. “The number of deaths among recent cases is less than one in a thousand. This data reflects a disease much less severe than the average annual flu.

‘Borders on hysteria’

“The media reaction to these cases, ie, with the gravity appropriate to reporting deaths from a major catastrophe, borders on hysteria. Opening a newscast with the number of people testing positive for a condition less dangerous than the flu, which many don’t even know they have, is scaremongering.”

Flu and Covid-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, caused by different viruses. Both can be transmitted by a person before they show symptoms. Covid-19 is generally more contagious and more associated with “super-spreader” events. Its effects are most severe among older people and those with underlying conditions. However, young children are at a higher risk of serious illness from flu.

There is a vaccine for flu but none as yet for Covid-19.

Dr Feeley says that while the initial measures taken by the Government were “totally acceptable and justifiable”, this is no longer the case, given what we now know about the disease.

Covid-19 is “profoundly different” from the Spanish flu pandemic of a century ago, he maintains, saying that that was “an indiscriminate killer” that largely targeted the young.

“Experience has taught us that at-risk and vulnerable individuals are identifiable with remarkable accuracy; and protective measures, hygiene, masks, social distancing and cocooning are effective.”

‘Best-kept secret’

Dr Feeley notes that virus-related deaths among people aged under 65 who do not have underlying conditions are uncommon, and transmission by children while possible is also uncommon.

The presence of a “chronic illness” is the “all-important factor” in determining a person’s Covid-19 risk, he points out. “You can identify with amazing accuracy who is at risk, as with no other disease.”

“The best-kept secret regarding Covid-19 is the vulnerability of individuals who are overweight,” he asserts.

Separately, another doctor, Alan Farrell, has written to the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health taking issue with the Government’s approach to Covid-19.

“From a medical perspective I am not seeing an impact from Covid on the ground. What I am seeing is delayed diagnoses for other conditions – breast cancer, skin cancer in young people, an onslaught of anxiety and depression, an increase in loneliness in the elderly, recently a fractured humerus in an elderly lady that has been like that for months as she was afraid to go outside.”

In a paper written with engineer Ivor Cummins, Dr Farrell argues that excess mortality from Covid-19 is “not very much greater” than the excess mortality observed during the 2018 flu season.

Most people are already immune to the virus, due to cross-immunity from prior coronaviruses, while the wearing of masks is an ineffective “politically driven endeavour”, they say.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times