Ireland’s now moving from a COVID-19 pandemic to an endemic, according to UCC Professor Liam Fanning.
A virus being endemic means it continues to circulate in a particular area or community (such as Ireland) for several years at a baseline level.
However, it’s different to a pandemic - when a virus is spreading rapidly globally and affecting large proportions of the population.
It comes after nearly 1,000 new cases of the virus were reported yesterday - by far the highest number in a single day since February.
Professor Fanning - Professor of Immunovirology at University College Cork - told Newstalk Breakfast that while the numbers are high, we’re now in a very different place than we were in previous waves.
He explained: “What 1,000 cases means is we’re kind of now moving from a pandemic to an endemic, and we need to have an understanding that this virus will likely only circulate in those that are unvaccinated.
“We know a small number of people who are vaccinated will pick up the infection, but we’re moving into a stage where this is going to become a common enough virus and be with us for the next couple of years.”
He acknowledged the most recent case numbers are concerning, but noted that Ireland has had a very successful vaccination programme with around 60% of adults now fully vaccinated.
Thousands of others will be immune having picked up the virus in recent months, with Professor Fanning saying the number of people who’ve been infected is likely significantly higher than official figures suggest.
He said: “While the [current] numbers are large and it may appear as if we’re heading back into January… we’re nowhere near January territory.”
Despite that optimistic note, Professor Fanning does believe Ireland needs to have rapid antigen testing more widely used - especially as the Government urges people to use their own judgement when it comes to activities.
He said: “Not using ancillary testing such as antigen testing… it’s like trying to play hurling with one hand.
“You’re trying to tell people to take command of their own situation, but you’re not giving them the full capacity to do it.”
He stressed that nobody wants to get this virus, but most of the vulnerable have now been vaccinated.
He said some vaccinated people will still end up in hospital - but on a population level, Ireland’s now in a “different place altogether” than previous waves.