Battle with Covid a long way from over, expert warns

In The News podcast: As case numbers surge, prospects of a quick end to crisis look remote

Almost 24,000 new cases of Covid-19 were recorded in Ireland on Tuesday, one of the highest daily numbers since the start of the pandemic more than two years ago.

With this second wave of Omicron washing over the country like a tsunami, it couldn’t be clearer that Covid has not gone away.

While the number of people dying with the illness remains low, the number getting sick and the level of disruption the virus is continuing to cause to everyday life is very, very high.

The main reason behind the increase in case numbers appears to be the BA.2 subvariant, which is more transmissible than the Omicron variant which was, in turn, far more transmissible than earlier versions of the virus.

But changes in behaviour and a dramatic relaxation on restrictions in Ireland have also played a part in the surge, prompting one World Health Organisation official to warn that Ireland had lifted pandemic restrictions too "brutally".

Even as case numbers go up, Government Ministers talk down the reintroduction of restrictions with Tánaiste Leo Varadkar all but entirely ruling out a return to mandatory mask-wearing.

Dr Gerald Barry is an associate professor of virology at University College Dublin and he is gloomy about the trajectory of the illness and questions the speed at which all the public health guidelines were changed.

As soon as you take away masks "it sends a signal to the public that things are getting better or that it has gone away to an extent", he says on the In The News podcast.

But, as Dr Barry notes, Covid is a long way from disappearing. Hopes that previous infection or vaccination will stop the virus in its tracks are, however, disappearing.

He points that even those who had Omicron in January are getting reinfected. “The reality is this virus is still bubbling away and new versions are coming along all the time unfortunately,” Dr Barry adds.

He says “we have never dealt in modern times with a respiratory illness like this” and warns that the battle against Covid could last years rather than the weeks or months many people might have been hoping for.

In The News is presented by reporters Conor Pope and Sorcha Pollak

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