Mike Ryan: Public 'deserve' to feel like worst of pandemic has passed

ireland
Mike Ryan: Public 'Deserve' To Feel Like Worst Of Pandemic Has Passed
World Health Organisation (WHO) executive director Mike Ryan said Ireland’s move towards a system of restrictions based on public responsibility was an “important transition”. Photo: Getty Images
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Dominic McGrath, PA

The pandemic is not over, despite some positive developments, World Health Organisation director Mike Ryan has warned.

Mr Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) health emergencies programme, on Saturday said that masks will remain a key part of life for a long time to come.

He said that people “deserve” to hope and feel that the worst part of the pandemic is behind us, due to the success of vaccine programmes, but warned that there are still a million cases of Covid-19 in Europe each week.

“The pandemic has stabilised at a really high, worrying level but the good news is that the incidence rate, the number of cases, is becoming decoupled from hospitalisations,” he said.

Appearing at a virtual conference hosted by NUI Galway, Mr Ryan warned that there will still be risks associated with large, indoor gatherings.

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His comments come as Covid restrictions are due to ease over the coming weeks, with the vast majority of public health regulations lifted by the end of October.

Mr Ryan said that he did not want to provide public health advice to the Government, but said that “prudence” was going to be necessary for individuals.

“We have to be very, very careful with large-scale indoor events,” Mr Ryan said.

Asked about his thoughts on the arrangements for the GAA All-Ireland football final next week, Mr Ryan said that outdoor events, with vaccinated people, were safer, but added: “If we’re all shouting and roaring and singing into each other’s faces, the risk of transmission is higher.”

He said that Ireland’s move towards a system of restrictions based on public responsibility was an “important transition”.

“Ireland and other countries are now moving from a phase of state-based intervention to much more self-directed behaviour for managing risk.

“That’s an important transition, because in one sense people want their freedom back and that’s a good thing.

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“And they want these externalised restrictions to be lifted. But we still have to take care of ourselves,” he said.

“If it’s me, I would be saying to people, maintaining some form of physical distance, avoiding crowded spaces indoors and wearing masks in situations where I’m collected with other people that are not of my family.”

Mr Ryan warned that countries need to consider the ethics of providing booster vaccines to their populations.

“The idea that fit and healthy people who have already had two doses require a booster. We don’t have the evidence for that.”

“That’s like handing out life jackets on the Titanic and you’re giving some people two life jackets and not giving others one.”

He said that providing a third dose to immuno-compromised people would make sense.

“There are rational justifications for extending the primary course to a third dose for some people,” he said.

Mr Ryan, speaking as part of a conversation with Prof Michael Kerin, chair of surgery in NUI Galway, was critical of the unequal distribution of vaccines between the developed and developing world.

“It is a tragedy, we still have doctors and nurses in frontline situations in low-income countries who are not protected against Covid,” he said.

“Right now, our collective investment, both public and private, when you think about what this virus has done around the world and when you think that we’re spending trillions of dollars every year in military defence, and we’re struggling in WHO to get 17 billion dollars to vaccinate the world.

“I think we need to readjust.”

He said that the pandemic was a reminder of the need to reform health systems.

“What we need to be able to do is not run our health service like a low-cost airline at 120% occupancy, which we effectively do in many countries.”

“If you don’t have enough beds or you don’t have a properly trained workforce or you don’t have enough flexibility in the system, or there isn’t enough money in the system, as you said, you haven’t isolated or protected certain parts of the system so they’re not impacted by the emergency.

“I think in every country, including Ireland, are going to take a hard look at that,” Mr Ryan said.

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