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EOIN NEYLON: Lockdown 2.0 a ticking time bomb for future public health crisis

in Home/Opinion by

LOCKDOWN 2.0 is upon us and with it all the misery it entails. Expect to see the return of Zoom quizzes and virtual pubs for those who can stomach the thought.

Personally, I do not think I can this time. Like a huge section of the population, I have become more than weary from the ongoing restrictions and the ongoing divorce from a sense of reality. Unfortunately, this is all too real.

The pandemic has effectively written off the year 2020 for so many people. Weddings, holidays, sport seasons, movie releases, gigs, even the gym, are all gone. The very things we look forward to; the milestones we anchor our sense of time around, will not be happening this year. To say it is disappointing is an understatement. Nevertheless, we are where we are, to borrow that awful phrase, and we have no choice but to persevere until medical science can provide us with a Covid vaccine some time in the new year.

At least the mood music there is good with many trials producing great results and phase three trials now underway for six different vaccines. Confidence is so high from the early results that some pharmaceutical companies have already begun the process of setting their plants up to mass produce the resultant compound. However, they will have to wait until full regulatory approval is given, just like any other vaccine.

In the interim, we in Ireland have instituted a near full national lockdown once more. In doing so, we have become the first country in Europe to take such action. One must ask why this measure was taken. NPHET made it clear that they were worried about case numbers and the R rate, but it’s evident that there is a major flaw in this approach that isn’t being picked up on. The cases being picked up on now are over 80 per cent asymptomatic according to the HSE.

A study from University College London found that figure as high as 86 per cent. However, back in spring, at the height of wave 1 of the virus, we were not picking up asymptomatic cases nearly as much. Cases recorded then were overwhelmingly those who presented themselves at GPs with symptoms. This means that our wave 1 peak of just over 1,000 cases a day missed some 3,500 or so cases that same day. This is reflected in the hospital admissions. Whereas we have exceeded the previous recorded peak daily cases, we’re still only on a fraction of the hospital and ICU admission rates as then. The HSE has stated that it is not under undue pressure for capacity in the hospital network presently.

That is, of course, subject to change. The big worry being flu season and how we will cope over the winter months. Nevertheless, I suspect this will be one of our best flu seasons ever. More people than ever are seeking the flu vaccine, plus distancing, hand hygiene, mask wearing, and sneezing etiquette will all hugely reduce the number of flu cases this year. It begs the question; have our Government allowed themselves to be led by an overly cautious NPHET?

It is long recorded that long term unemployment, associated deprivation as well as the cancellation/postponement of elective procedures and some screening programs will inevitably lead to a worsening in public health. Add to that now the distinct lack of regular exercise that people have come accustomed to, the mental health implications and the poor diet that people struggling to pay their way will now encounter, and we’ve set up a ticking time bomb for a future public health crisis that won’t have any quick fix. This is before you take full stock of the economic damage we will see.

To now, Government supports have been effective. A report out this week saw that business insolvencies were at a slightly lower rate this year compared to last for the first nine months of the year. That said, the Taoiseach’s words in the Dáil on Tuesday filled me and so many others with dread. In a response to questioning from the Sinn Féin leader, he acknowledged that going in and out of lockdown might be a pattern we will see throughout the next year too. Many people are now questioning; what is the point? Without an exit strategy, why are we engaging in a strategy that the WHO themselves instructed Governments not to do just last week. It is clear the Government have hedged their bets on there being a vaccine produced early in the New Year. For all our sakes, they had better be right. Or else, attempts for a lockdown 3.0 might be met with an outright riot!

Until then, stay safe, stay strong and stay connected as best you can, while staying within restrictions of course. Hopefully, all going to plan, we can meet up by a hot fire this Christmas as close to normal as possible. It’s the last milestone we have left now.

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