Plans for indoor social activity ‘nearly as insane as Christmas’ - group

Meeting of group advocating zero-Covid hears reopening plans are ‘rushed’ and ‘mired in conflicts of interest’

Plans to reopen indoor social activity with the so-called Indian variant of Covid-19 circulating in Ireland is “nearly as insane as Christmas”, according to a member of the Independent Scientific Advocacy Group (ISAG).

ISAG, which has called for a “zero Covid” suppression strategy and counts a number of medical and science experts among its membership, held a public meeting on Wednesday at which the consequences of the Indian variant for Ireland were discussed.

Dr Paul Dempsey, who is a population health and risk data analyst, said that while outdoor activity "might be unaffected" by the variant in the event cases are contained within mandatory quarantine, indoor activity "is nearly as insane as Christmas".

Cases of Covid-19 spiked enormously following a relaxation of public health guidelines over the Christmas period.


On the same topic, Prof Aoife McLysaght of the molecular evolution laboratory in the Smurfit Institute of Genetics at Trinity College Dublin said there ought to be more defined criteria applied to the reopening of society.

“When they talk about reopening certain sectors, they are not attaching any criteria to that,” she said. “If you open gyms, hairdressers and pubs, but you are not asking them to meet certain standards before they do so in terms of ventilation, it just doesn’t make sense.

“One gym might have big wide open windows, whereas another might be in a sweaty basement, and they are not the same thing just because they are both gyms.”

Gerry Killeen, a professor in applied pathogen ecology at University College Cork, said plans to reopen were "rushed" and "mired in conflicts of interest".

“To have Bord Fáilte drafting the plan for the reopening of indoor hospitality is not the correct way to do it,” he said. “There needs to be objective oversight.

“The danger is that we get ourselves into a fourth wave, and the rest of the country follows Limerick into what it is starting to experience, or follows Bolton [in England] into what it is experiencing.” Bolton has one of the highest rates of the Indian variant in Britain.

“The other really big danger in easing off our decline a little bit too early is that instead of reaching a stage where there is no Covid, or just occasional outbreaks that we can manage, we cruise into stable, endemic transmission.

“If we have stable, endemic transmission, it’s going to be very hard to sleep at night because then you’ve got an endemic pathogen that’s still evolving in the face of strong pressure from high coverage of a vaccine that we’ve all come to depend on.”

On the issue of reopening foreign travel, Dr Dempsey said it was “really high risk”. He added: “We know there are new variants spreading in Europe. There are new variants spreading in the UK. There are relatively high case rates in a number of European countries.”

Prof McLysaght said the uncertainty surrounding the transmissibility of the Indian variant means it is worth waiting a number of weeks to observe what occurs in the UK, which is also reopening society while the variant is in circulation.

“In a few weeks it will be quite clear,” she said. “It will either be that something unusual happened in Bolton – bad luck and a few different factors coinciding – or there is some biological feature of the variant that makes it more transmissible.

“The price of waiting those few weeks to have more certainty is quite slim – it’s a holding pattern – but the potential cost of opening up now, if it is as bad as it might be, is really huge, and I think that’s a point that needs to be made quite clearly.”

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter