Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

09.13 9 Mar 2021


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Professor Sam McConkey says the reopening of society should be slower and more gradual than it was last summer.

The infectious diseases expert says there should be a five-week gap between each stage of reopening.

Restrictions were eased every in three-week phases last summer, although some measures were ultimately eased earlier than planned.

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Professor McConkey - head of the Department of International Health and Tropical Medicine at RCSI - told Newstalk Breakfast we should look to the UK's current approach when it comes to easing restrictions this time around.

McConkey: Reopening needs to be 'slower and more gradual' than last summer

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He observed: “I was relatively impressed with a press conference by Boris Johnson and UK’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty about four or five weeks ago.

“Chris Whitty outlined the need for a gradual, step-wise reopening - he pointed out we should have, in his opinion, five weeks between each jump in the step of relaxation.”

Professor McConkey said two weeks are needed to see the impact of eased restrictions on the daily case numbers, and then another two weeks to ensure those numbers aren’t a ‘blip’.

A final week would then allow time for the Government to make a 'considered' political decision about the next steps, and work to ensure the public is on-board with the speed of relaxation.

For Professor McConkey, the full reopening of schools and the construction sector should be among the early steps.

He also said it would be 'sensible' to allow for some small outdoor meetings of friends and family, as "outside is perhaps 20 times safer than inside".

However, he noted that everything can't be done at once, and reopening should instead be handled in steps spaced out by five weeks.

'We’re doing a really good job'

Professor McConkey said this wave of the virus is 'slightly different' to previous ones due to the presence of the seemingly more transmissible B117 variant here in Ireland.

He said that means we need a more gradual relaxation of restrictions than we saw last April, May and June.

However, he suggested the country is likely doing 'as much as we can' at the moment to improve the COVID-19 situation.

He said: “We’re at a level of social distancing that the vast majority of people are going along with.

“I think we’re rolling out vaccines as fast as we can buy it - there is a supply chain issue as everyone in the world is looking for it.

"The problem of vaccines will solve itself over the next few months as more and more companies start to roll it out."

He added that while everyone would like to see the case numbers improving faster, he believes "we’re doing a really good job".

It comes as NPHET's Professor Philip Nolan says the drop in new COVID-19 case numbers may be even better than hoped.

Main image: Henry Street in Dublin last June. Picture by: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

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