Time for a national diagnostic agency

Sir, – Prof Cliona Farrelly has wisely warned us that we need to be prepared for another pandemic ("Now is a good time to consolidate and develop expertise gained during pandemic", Opinion & Analysis, March) 19th).

There is a growing awareness that the Covid pandemic is not over, with concerns that the Covid variant Omicron BA2 may be one of the most infectious respiratory viruses known to science. Fortunately it is not highly pathogenic.

I now warn – again – that we face the possibility of a being hit by a mutant derivative of this (or another) strain of Covid-19 that may have mutated to high pathogenicity (like the related coronaviruses Sars and Mers) while remaining highly transmissible and able to escape at least to some degree the protection offered by the vaccines (and drugs).

We must prepare for this threat now and for entirely novel pandemics, not just human but agricultural.


I would go further than Prof Farrelly advises. We need a powerful, dedicated and secure national diagnostic agency with strong research and computational capability. It must have fail-safe communications systems, with reserve strengths in test and trace, and be linked with the best scientists at home and abroad. It would not be idle in normal times when it would provide much-needed genetic, immunological and other medical, veterinary and plant tests both nationally and internationally, with commercial potential.

It is to be hoped, without much confidence I should say, that the review of how we dealt and are dealing with Covid-19 will consider the importance of such a facility. – Yours, etc,


Smurfit Institute of Genetics,

Trinity College Dublin,

Dublin 2.