HSE rejects senior doctor’s comments Covid-19 is ‘less severe’ than annual flu

Dr Martin Feeley says restrictions were ‘draconian’ and unfair on younger people

The Health Service Executive (HSE) has sought to distance itself from comments made in The Irish Times by one its senior executives that "draconian" Covid-19 restrictions were no longer justified.

Dr Martin Feeley, the clinical director of the Dublin Midlands Hospital Group, said Covid-19 is "much less severe" than the average annual flu.

He suggested 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.

“That is what is happening and yet the policy seems to be to prevent it,” he told The Irish Times.


“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.”

He went on to state that 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 said 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 the 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.

“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.”

In response Dr Colm Henry, the chief clinical officer for the HSE, said "for the avoidance of any doubt, the position as stated by Dr Feeley in the Irish Times today is not the position of the HSE on this important subject".

Dr Henry emphasised there had been 28 million cases and 900,000 deaths from Covid-19 since it was declared a global pandemic on March 11st.

He refuted the suggestion from Dr Feeley that young people should be allowed to get the disease to encourage herd immunity.

This, Dr Henry suggested, “has the power to overwhelm healthcare systems and lead to large-scale illness and death, particularly in vulnerable populations.”

He said: “According to the WHO, the threshold for establishing herd immunity is not yet clear. Neither is the duration of post-infection immunity known. “The most effective way of protecting older people and vulnerable groups is not by expecting them to protect themselves, but by everybody adhering to the public health advice, which that will limit transmission of the virus between individuals and households.”

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times