‘This is not February’ - Consultant says Covid-19 can be contained if we ‘do the right things’

Covid-19 flare ups in hospitals, nursing homes ‘because staff not wearing masks’

Jack Lambert of the Mater hospital in Dublin speaking to The Irish Times’s Confronting Coronavirus podcast in April.

Coronavirus in Ireland can be contained if people "do all the right things" and take responsibility for their actions, an infectious diseases consultant has said.

Prof Jack Lambert said "we should upscale our efforts to get through the next two years in the hope that virus loses virulence or a vaccine comes along".

Speaking on RTÉ’s Brendan O’Connor Show he said he did not believe the disease would get out of control “if we do all the right things. If we take action, if we take responsibility. This is not February.

Hospital Report

“In February there were probably 50,000 cases and we didn’t test most of them and now we have a couple of thousand cases and we’re testing a third of them. We’re testing 70,000 now and back then we were only testing 500 (a week).


“The numbers are alarming and increasing in small numbers and it could replicate over the next week or two but I don’t think it will if we do the right thing.”

Prof Lambert, however, also said Covid-19 flare ups in hospitals and nursing homes in the last week occurred because healthcare professionals were not using masks. He said there had been flare-ups in the community “as a function of people not using masks in the right situation”.

“One third of the cases in whole country were healthcare workers. As soon as we started using masks in hospitals and all situations and not just with known Covid cases, we had zero cases.”

He said that 18 years ago the Sars virus became very virulent but after a time it lost its virulence factor and it stopped killing people.

Prof Lambert said that colleagues in Singapore and France said “the virus is just as contagious as before but it is less lethal even in higher risk groups”.

He said they were seeing “so few people in the hospital now. We used to have 20 in ICU (intensive care units) and 50 a day admitted with Covid”.

“In the last week we’ve had a couple admitted with Covid and a couple in ICU so the numbers are way down so it is not circulating in Ireland the way it was in February.”

He said they needed to “plan forward with an action plan, not a reaction plan”.

Ireland has a very low mortality, half the rate of the UK, he added.

Herd immunity

Prof Lambert said herd immunity was a “bad idea” because instead of 2,000 deaths in Ireland there would have been 40,000 deaths.

He said based on statistics Covid-19 is 15 times more lethal than influenza and herd immunity is not a solution.

“If we allow herd immunity we are going to have thousands of people with post Covid complications” which he said included many people not getting back to work for months.

The lockdown was the right decision in the first two months but Covid-19 has been quiet in hospitals since May but he said they had not planned.

He said Ireland was now in a “post-Covid freeze” and he believe the summer had been wasted when a plan should have been put in place, including supports for aviation, airlines, pubs and other businesses.

The Government will on Tuesday publish its medium-term plan to deal with Covid-19 over the next up to 18 months.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times