Two weeks of local lockdowns likely won’t be enough to contain coronavirus surges in Kildare, Laois and Offaly, according to an expert.
Dr Tomás Ryan, Associate Professor at the School of Biochemistry and Immunology in Trinity College, says regionalised lockdowns are ‘the way to go’ to control COVID-19 outbreaks.
If there is a further increase in cases in the impacted counties, Dr Ryan said up to six weeks of restrictions might be needed - but it will also be a case of a ‘trade off’ when it comes to the severity of restrictions and the time spent under them.
He suggested: “Extremely severe restrictions in two or three weeks will of course do it… but the restrictions aren’t extremely severe.”
The localised restrictions have been in place in Kildare, Laois and Offaly since the weekend, after those counties saw an increase in clusters and new cases.
Dr Ryan told Newstalk Breakfast it is “very regrettable” we’ve had any local lockdowns, but that it’s “obviously better than locking down the entire country”.
He suggested we should have green zones within the country that would allow some counties to fully open up when they haven’t had community transmission in two weeks - saying he believes that’s currently only the case in Wexford, Roscommon and Carlow.
He explained: “If we start to get cases down with an intention strategy, with a decision to get zero counties… then we could start to open up other counties to 100% sooner than we might think.
“This has been used in other countries very well… in places like Switzerland, Argentina and China.
“The reality is you have control over schools, workplaces and places of congregation… and that’s going to have a huge effect.”
'Very precarious position'
In terms of the current local lockdown, Dr Ryan said how long it should last will depend on the number of positive cases and the level of community transmission.
He explained: “Of course, the real worry is if there has been substantial transmission from these clusters into the community, there’s no reason that that would be restricted to Kildare, Laois and Offaly.
“I know this is an unpopular thing to say, but I can’t see how two weeks would possibly be sufficient to really contain this. I think most people see that.
“I think we need to see how things develop over the next few weeks. We’re all in a very precarious position right now.”
In general, Dr Ryan said not enough people are being tested in Ireland - and that the tests aren't happening fast enough.
He said: “We don’t know how well we’ve contained these outbreaks, if at all, and we’re really not aware of the amount of community transmission there is in general because we don’t have wide enough coverage in our testing surveillance net.
“On the population side, I don’t think we have enough physical distancing yet. We see mask usage on the up, but we’re not just there yet."
He said any suggestion we shouldn’t be worrying too much about coronavirus is ‘irresponsible and reckless’.
He said: “A lot of doctors and nurses and healthcare workers have put themselves on the line for months are exhausted, and now we don’t have a healthcare system that can deal properly with a second surge.”