Caution needed on lifting restrictions

 

Sir, – I wish to express my serious concern at the many recent calls to ease the Covid-19 restrictions in relation to long-distance travel and social distancing.

Lest we forget, it took us just one month to go from 90 cases of Covid-19 to over 10,000, and from no deaths to almost 400.

We narrowly avoided a complete meltdown of our health services. Had the rates of increase persisted our hospitals would have been overwhelmed, with harrowing scenes like those in Italy. We must also not forget that 1,650 people have already died from Covid-19 in Ireland. If we do not eliminate community transmission, then many more will die from what is ultimately a preventable disease.

The key statistic for Covid-19 is the “reproduction number”, or average number of people likely to be infected by someone with the disease. Mathematical models show that if the reproduction number can be kept below one, then the virus will slowly die out. But if the number rises above one the virus will re-establish itself in successive waves, leading not just to more illness and death, but more economic and social disruption as well.

In the absence of a vaccine, there is no middle ground. We either take the measures required to effectively eliminate Covid-19; or we accept the inevitability of further severe outbreaks.

In my opinion, we therefore have no choice. Until such time as we have eliminated community transmission, we must continue to restrict unnecessary travel and maintain the two-metre social distancing guideline in accordance with the Government’s roadmap. These measures have been vital in the near-elimination of the disease, not just in Australia and New Zealand, but also in Norway, Greece and Slovenia. If elimination is attainable in these countries, it is equally attainable here.

As soon as we have attained the de facto elimination of Covid-19 in Ireland, we will be in a much stronger position to relax restrictions. Once we are confident that our disease levels are negligible, we can also be confident about returning to commercial, educational and sporting activities. Until then, we must not jeopardise the progress we have made by over-hastily jettisoning the social distancing and travel restrictions that have served us well and have helped save hundreds, if not thousands, of lives. – Yours, etc,

Dr BRENDAN McCANN,

Lecturer in Mathematics,

Waterford Institute

of Technology,

Waterford.