Covid-19 has certainly not gone away and we're currently in the middle of another surge with rising case numbers and all the disruption and illness that brings with it. We spoke to immunologist Prof Christine Loscher from DCU to get her take on the current surge, why we should expect more waves in the coming months and how we should be dealing with them.

What stage are we at with the current surge?

"Right now, about 5,000 cases a day on average are being reported and I would say many would share the view that that's a gross underestimation of where the case numbers are really at. I would think that they are two to three times higher and we're probably looking at 10 to 15,000 cases a day easily. The numbers of those in hospitals and ICUs tend to lag a little bit behind, so I suspect that we're going to see them rise for the next couple of weeks.

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

From RTÉ Radio 1's Today With Claire Byrne, Prof Christine Loscher from DCU and Co Clare GP Dr Yvonne Williams answer listener questions about Covid-19

"I think everybody can see that anecdotally. Workplaces are seeing people absent with Covid, we've seen businesses really struggling and there are issues with airlines and flights getting cancelled. People who've never had Covid before seem to have succumbed this time around

"If you look at the pattern we've seen in Portugal, which was the first in and out of this wave, their numbers climbed for five or six weeks, plateaued and are now on a decline. There was quite a long buildup to that surge and we're kind of seeing something similar here, in terms of the steady climb of positivity. I would say we're kind of four or five weeks into that and we probably have another week to go to the peak before we plateau and and start to decline."

What's driving the summer surge?

"This summer surge is driven very much by BA.4 and BA.5, these two new sub-variants. What we know about them is that they are really good at transmitting, even better than the ones that have come before them, but also a little bit more in terms of mutations of the spike protein, which means that they are a little bit more immune evasive, which means that the immunity we've built up is just not as powerful against these sub-variants.

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

From RTÉ Radio 1's Brendan O'Connor Show, Prof Christine Loscher on the Covid summer surge in Ireland

"What's really important is that people understand that vaccination does two things. It gives you an initial layer of protection in your antibodies, so that's what will probably stop you from getting the infection or lower your risk. If you do get it, you've got this other arm of your immune system, these T cells, and they really get rid of the virus and prevent you getting severely sick. It's been a while since many of us got our boosters so our first layer of antibody protection is not as strong at the moment, but our second layer is still really, really strong.

"I think one of the really important messages is that a lot of the mildness that we're seeing in illness at the moment is predominantly due to the level of population immunity that we have, which is vaccine driven immunity that prevents severity and hospitalisation. That's why this virus is predominately behaving the way it is in our country and other countries in Europe that are highly vaccinated.

"When we look at the last wave of Omicron in places like Hong Kong, a very poorly vaccinated population, they ended up having the highest death rate of any country at any stage in the pandemic with any variant. So in a population that doesn't have good immunity, this Omicron variant can still cause a lot of damage, so our population immunity from vaccinations and boosters is really really showing its value.

Should we be giving a booster vaccine to everyone now?

"Whether we should be giving the booster to the entire population is probably up for debate at the moment. What I would say is if our background immunity against severity is very good and we're not seeing severe illness and it's not translating in the younger population, the healthier population, then we should consider holding off on a fourth booster. Instead we should look at what our vaccine strategy is coming into the autumn and winter, when we are likely to see another wave of Covid.

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

From RTÉ 1's Nine News, over 65s urged to get booster vaccine as Covid cases rise

"What I mean by the vaccine strategy is whether or not the new vaccines are more specific to Omicron. Remember we're still vaccinating with the vaccine that was developed against the original strain. If we look at ones that are more specific to Omicron, they will give us a high level of protection against severity of disease and complications, but they'll also give us a higher level of protection against actually getting Covid, which is really what we want.

"Moderna and Pfizer have some great data coming through on those new vaccines and they're going to the FDA for approval for those very soon as they want to have them ready for the autumn time to roll out. I guess the question for us is do we strategise and wait on that more specific vaccine, that will give us higher protection on case numbers in particular going into the winter, or do we start to boost population now. I think boosting the general population now is too early as it will have waned by the time we move into our autumn and winter waves."

So we can expect an autumn or winter surge?

"It's inevitable, no question about it, that there will be another surge. I don't see how there won't be. I think that the behaviour of the virus so far is that we are getting a new variant about every six months. After Omicron, we have now had two other further waves of of sub-variants so we're getting a sub-variant every three or four months.

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, Prof Seamus Linnane, Consultant in Respiratory Medicine, on the latest surge in Covid-19 cases

"The evolution of the virus from Omicron is happening a little bit quicker and they're causing these surges as they become more immune, so I think that we will see a BA.6 and BA.7 essentially coming into October. With that in mind, we need to be deciding what we're doing with our vaccination program towards the end of August and September to prepare for that.

"That said, a new variant might come on the scene out of the blue that's not a sub-variant of Omicron. We don't know how that variant is going to behave, we won't know what level of illness it will cause and we won't know whether or not it's even more immune evasive to the immunity that we have. There's a lot of unpredictability coming into the winter in terms of what vaccines be used, but also what will the virus do. If we're still dealing with Omicron and we get more specific vaccines and with a good strategy, I think we could probably winter the winter quite well."

What should we doing to prepare for these surges?

"I think what's absolutely key in terms of our winter surges is what are we going to advise the public to do when we come into a surge. It's a respiratory virus that usually transmits better anyway in winter time because people are indoors, so we have to make sure we're prepared. It's about vaccine strategy, it's about making sure we're ready, it's about how we expect the public to respond.

"Frst of all, the most important thing is that people are told this is a surge. People kind of need it spelled out that we are in a surge and to make sure they're up to date with whatever vaccine or booster we have. We should also be encouraging people wear masks on public transport and in crowded indoor spaces.

"I don't think we responded to the last two surges properly. I have seen more people wearing masks at the moment, so I think people are certainly responding to the surge, but I don't think that's been driven centrally, with messaging from public health that this is an appropriate response in a surge.

"I think we need to have that in place for the winter. I think we need to be very clear that masks can play a role in lowering risk and that they should be used when we come into surges particularly in winter. It should be the norm for us to behave like this during the weeks of a surge: the hand washing, the focus on ventilation, risk assessing the environment that you're going into. I think that has to be huge coming into the winter."


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ