Professor Luke O’Neill says Ireland is ‘in the thick’ of pandemic fatigue, and a change in approach is now needed.
The Trinity College immunologist says the five-kilometre travel restriction is one rule that ‘clearly’ needs to be changed by the Government, as it would stop people crowding into areas like their local park.
He said letting people do more outdoor activities more means they'll be less likely to break other rules - something that's been seen in past pandemics.
On The Pat Kenny Show, Professor O'Neill explained that fatigue among the public is something that's been seen in previous pandemics.
He said: "Ebola outbreaks in Africa always give rise to pandemic fatigue.
“One of the big symptoms is you get a good night’s sleep, but you’re still tired - that’s evidence of psychological stress. There are health consequences of all kinds, because of mental health issues. There’s no question in Ireland we’re in the thick of this.
“The big one for me is pandemic fatigue gives way to decreased compliance… in other words, people just get so fed up they stop complying with the guidelines and ignore the public health measures. That gives rise to increased spread.
“Paradoxically, you can have an increase in the spread because of the measures you’re taking to try to slow down spread.”
Changing the message
Professor said the AIDS pandemic in the 80s offers a good example of how to change the messaging.
Initially, people were told abstinence was the way to go to avoid infection - but people quickly got fed up with that message.
In response, officials moved to harm reduction messaging, such as safe sex campaigns.
Professor O'Neill said a negative narrative increases pandemic fatigue, whereas positive messaging encourages people to do things safely.
He said: “What’s happening now - we’ll see this hopefully here and other European countries - we’re going to move into the harm reduction phase. Instead of giving people instructions what not to do, you tell them what they can do and to do it safely.
“What safe sex was for AIDS, safe outdoor and indoor activities should be for COVID-19… we’ve got to move towards living with this thing for the next few months.
“People can go outdoors and can do things where the harm is being reduced by certain measures being in place. I suspect the Government will have to move to this - the 5km thing should clearly be broken, as that would decrease harm - we’re all crowding into parks at the moment, so I hope they’re gonna break the 5km rule.”
Several senior ministers have said they hope that particular restriction will be eased in early April, with a decision due next week.