Prof Luke O’Neill: Science supports zero-Covid strategy

Prof Luke O’neill: Science Supports Zero-Covid Strategy
The professor said people would be back in beer gardens with friends by June. Photo: PA Archive.
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Science supports a zero-Covid strategy but it is very difficult to achieve, Professor Luke O’Neill has said.

The Irish Times reports that the professor of biochemistry at Trinity College Dublin said there was need for greater alignment between the Republic, Northern Ireland and the European Union to suppress the virus.

“Quarantining people in hotels in Dublin Airport won’t be enough if the Border is open. If Belfast and Dublin were aligned it would be easier but really, we’d need an EU-aligned travel policy as well,” he said.

“It will be a political failure if we can’t get an EU/UK travel policy.”

Speaking to columnist Jennifer O’Connell during the Irish Times Winter Nights online festival, Prof O’Neill said he disliked comparisons between Ireland and New Zealand, which is pursuing a strategy of completely eliminating the virus.


He explained how South Korea “nipped Covid in the bud” because of its experience with Sars and Mers — two previous epidemics caused by other coronaviruses.

“Ireland hasn’t been doing too badly in controlling the disease. If nobody left their house for three weeks, the virus would go away but that’s impossible to do. I always knew that we would beat this virus but I didn’t know when,” he said.

Beer gardens

Prof O’Neill said that inward travel and too much contact between people were behind previous waves of infection.

“The question is now whether we can bear more stringent regulations while the vaccine is being rolled out,” he said.

Once the top four priority groups were vaccinated in the Republic, the death rate would fall by 95 per cent, he said.

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“The rate of illness and growth rate of the virus will go down too,” he said.

“I can’t wait until the bell goes off to say that we are at 90 per cent lower risk of disease, to bring us to the point that we aren’t so frightened of this virus.”

However, the professor said it would take longer for society to return to normal.

“We will stay cautious. I would like to see schools reopen after March 5th. I think we will be back in beer gardens with friends in June and (indoor) pubs towards the autumn but we’ll have one more summer holidaying in Ireland,” he said.

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