Pandemic handling review team to include Swedish critic of lockdowns

Donnelly names 13 members of Public Health Reform Expert Advisory Group

A Swedish epidemiologist who has criticised harsh lockdowns has been appointed to a group set up to review Ireland’s handling of the pandemic.

Dr Johan Giesecke, who gave evidence to the Oireachtas Covid committee that was convened during 2020, was named by Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly on Tuesday as one of 13 members to sit on the Public Health Reform Expert Advisory Group.

The group will be chaired by former president of University College Dublin Prof Hugh Brady, who is currently president designate of Imperial College London. In 2020, Dr Giesecke said the Irish approach of locking down was "destroying the fabric" of society and the economy.

In his opening remarks to the Oireachtas committee in 2020, Dr Giesecke said there should be a “controlled spread” of Covid among the under-60s, and that the State should allow a “tolerable spread” of the virus in the over-60s.


He said schools must remain open and he told the committee that there was no difference between infections among schoolchildren in Sweden where schools were kept open and in neighbouring Finland which closed its schools.

Pandemic management

Later, he qualified his remarks by saying that he was not prescribing a model for pandemic management used in Sweden – which was notable for an early disavowal of lockdowns – for use in Ireland. He said at the time that zero Covid policies were not a feasible solution because they would have to apply in every country in the world.

Other members of the group include overseas experts from the Netherlands and the UK, and domestic medics and researchers working in a variety of academic and healthcare positions. The group will be asked to "identify learnings" from the public health components of the response to Covid-19 in Ireland "with a view towards strengthening health protection generally and future public health pandemic preparedness specifically".

It will also look at the components of the model for public health in Ireland, with a view to recommending an appropriate operating model to develop and oversee the delivery of public health here.

Targeted process

The Government has yet to decide on what model a Covid inquiry or review will take, but the Department of Health is pushing ahead with this more targeted process. Mr Donnelly said he wanted to see "the development of a fast, dynamic and agile, integrated and intelligence-led public health response to future health threats".

On Tuesday, another 4,006 PCR-confirmed cases of Covid-19 were reported in the State, while 5,212 more people registered a positive antigen test through the Health Service Executive portal.

As of 8am on Tuesday, there were 824 Covid-19 patients hospitalised, of whom 79 were in ICU.

About half of the patients with Covid-19 in hospital were incidental cases, according to information from doctors provided to the National Public Health Emergency Team earlier this month. From experience on the ground, Covid-19 was not the primary reason for admission in these cases, officials were told.

Where patients were vaccinated prior to admission, their Covid-19 symptoms appeared to be less severe, with quicker turnaround times and less need for oxygen support.

In Northern Ireland, five more people who had previously tested positive for Covid-19 have died, while another 5,023 confirmed cases of the virus have been notified, the North’s department of health said on Tuesday.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times