Prof Philip Nolan criticises Prof Jack Lambert over coronavirus article

High profile medical experts differ sharply on State’s tackling of Covid-19

Two of the State’s high profile medical experts on infectious diseases have sharply differed publicly on the approach the Government should be taking to tackle the coronavirus.

Writing in The Irish Times on Friday, Professor Jack Lambert professor of medicine and infectious diseases at the Mater and UCD School of Medicine, said much of what the Government was doing at the behest of the National Public Health Advisory Team, was ill advised.

Prof Lambert said while there should be “cause for concern” over the coronavirus “there is no reason to panic”. He said the measure s taken by Government so far had “sacrificed our economy for poorly thought through decisions, made in a void, without appropriate multi-sector stakeholder engagement”.

He said the State should be “finding ways to keep the virus at bay, not to count the numbers and to threaten lockdown measures which cause further erosions to our already fragile society”.


Outlining a counter- 10 point strategy Prof Lambert said there was too much media focus on “sound bites” reporting of numbers and not enough focus “on the only intervention to date that has shown to work, the face mask”. He instanced Asian countries which have “adapted to ‘a new normal’ and are successfully living with Covid, opening up businesses, minimising Covid transmission, taking holidays safely, and the virus continues to remain controlled”.

He said “we need to salvage our travel industry”, use Covid PCR and antigen tests and bring in Covid swat teams to chase down outbreaks.

However, Professor Philip Nolan whose Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group is advising Nphet was immediately critical of Dr Lambert’s approach in a number of linked comments on Twitter.

In his initial comment, Professor Nolan who is also President of Maynooth University, said: “We face difficult decisions if we are to suppress again the spread of SARS-CoV-2, and different voices should be heard. However, such contributions should be grounded in the facts, and public health expertise and experience. This article [by Dr Lambert] is neither”.

He went on to say: “ a public health specialist would give you a much better critique than I could of the errors and misconceptions in the argument; I’ll confine myself to highlighting some factual inaccuracies.”

“The article states that ‘it is reasonable to make an educated assumption that tens of thousands of cases were circulating undiagnosed throughout the country’ in March and April, implying that 500-1,000 cases now is less of a problem than it seems.”

Prof Nolan continued : “This ‘educated assumption’ does not stand up to any scrutiny. We know that people with SARS-CoV-2 infection remain infectious for 7-14 days, so a good estimate of active infections is the 14-day cumulative incidence.”

Professor Nolan said the 14-day cumulative incidence is now 207 per 100,000, “so if we are detecting, say, 70-80 percent of infections, we have 12,000-14,000 active infections now compared with about 25,000 at peak.”

“If the basic facts are so badly incorrect, how valid and useful is the opinion?” he asked.

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien is an Irish Times journalist