Ireland must prepare for “inevitable” COVID-19 resurgence, Oireachtas committee hears

Posted 29 June, 2020

It is inevitable that Ireland will experience a resurgence of the coronavirus as restrictions are relaxed, the Oireachtas' COVID-19 committee has heard.

Professor Paddy Mallon, one of the country’s leading infectious disease specialists, said there was “a very narrow window of opportunity” to learn from the first wave, and that the next few weeks must be used “wisely to improve” the infrastructure of the HSE.

The expert from the UCD School of Medicine, and consultant in infectious diseases in St Vincent's University Hospital, stressed to the Oireachtas Special Committee on COVID-19 Response that the Irish healthcare system would again put to the test “come August”.

“We are only beginning to understand the impact of this first wave on the health of our citizens,” he said.

“I and others in the infectious diseases clinical community believe that it is inevitable that we will experience a resurgence of cases as we relax restrictions and permit more travel.”

Highlighting that there is still no effective pharmaceutical treatment or vaccine to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Professor Mallon said that Ireland was “within a geographical high risk zone” due to ongoing community transmissions in the United States, Sweden and parts of the United Kingdom, together with the resurgence of COVID-19 in Portugal and Germany.

“The first stress test for [Ireland] is going to be what happens in August, as the Irish people decide whether they travel overseas or not, because we will inevitably have imported cases coming back into the country and that is going to stress the testing system. The second big stress for the testing system is going to be the onset of seasonal influenza,” he added.

Calling on the Government for greater healthcare investment over the coming weeks, he said Ireland needed “to rapidly upscale in emergency department capacity and isolation room facilities in hospitals.”

“We got away by the skin of our teeth largely due to the biggest non-pharmaceutical intervention the country has ever taken, which was mediated by the public. We did not get away with this because of the capacity in our healthcare system.

“To ask our healthcare system and the people within that system to do again what they have done over the past three months would be similar to asking the population to undergo the three-month lock down again.

“There needs to be a recognition, going forward, that we cannot operate safely with the current footprint and current staffing levels.”

Professor Mallon also told the special Oireachtas committee that current turnaround time of two days for testing and tracing in the community was not good enough.

"If this programme fails to work effectively, we risk losing the gains provided to us through the sacrifices of the people,” he added.

By: David Kearns, Digital Journalist / Media Officer, UCD University Relations