A specialist in infectious diseases, Professor Sam McConkey, has warned that Ireland is at the beginning of a second wave of Covid-19.

Speaking at a meeting of the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 Response, Prof McConkey said that physical distancing is needed to "crush the curve into the ground".

He also said it will be impossible to prevent the re-entry of the virus into nursing homes unless it is controlled in the community.

A Swedish expert told the committee that controlled spread of the coronavirus should be allowed among people aged under 60.

In his opening statement, Dr Johan Giesecke, former chief epidemiologist in Sweden, said Ireland should concentrate on the old and frail with frequent testing of staff and residents in care homes.

He told politicians that we should wait at least a year to start comparing countries' Covid-19 strategies.

Dr Giesecke also warned the pandemic is only at the beginning.

He advised against building a strategy on the imminent advent of a vaccine because we might have to wait for it and it may not be very effective in those who need it most.

Dr Giesecke said intensive contact tracing and testing of contacts will be needed.

He told the committee that Covid-19 has surprised people many times and may again.

Dr Giesecke said the pandemic will hurt the poorer and marginalised most and there was a threat to democracy with some people having power they did not have before.

The committee examined strategic options today for using the Government plan to eliminate community transmission of the coronavirus in Ireland.

Chair Michael McNamara said it was important to hear the views of other countries including Sweden so as not to risk being insular in Ireland's response to the virus.

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Covid-19 in nursing homes

Microbiologist Professor Kirsten Schaffer said virus outbreaks in nursing homes need to be looked at closely to understand why transmission is still happening.

She said that if gowns, gloves and masks are used, it should be possible to control transmission in nursing homes to a certain level.

She was responding to Sinn Féin TD Rose Conway Walsh, who asked if Ireland can avoid a second wave of Covid-19 in nursing homes.

Professor Tomás Ryan, Associate Professor of Biochemistry, Trinity Institute of Neurosciences at Trinity College Dublin, told the committee that testing is not a magical suit of armour against the virus.

He said that in countries that have been most successful against the virus, their testing capacity has been enough to crush the first curve without a lockdown.

He said it is not so much about the testing capacity as the ability to integrate it with public health operations to "crush outbreaks" while there are small numbers of cases.


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Prof Ryan said Ireland's opportunity to do that was in early August and it is clear that our system was not able to do so.

Prof Schaffer said it was not so much about testing capacity but the logistics around testing.

She said we have the testing capacity but are not well organised around it. It is crucially important that the results are communicated in a fast and efficient manner, she added.

Prof Schaffer warned that society is starting to verge into two directions and we have to try to bring society together again.

She said for young people the virus is an abstract term and they feel deprived of their social interactions.

We must change our approach and become more open and transparent because, she said, the younger generations have had enough.

On the other hand the elderly and the vulnerable are terrified, she said.

Prof Schaffer said the rising rates over the past 14 days are due to family gatherings and parties and that we must look closer at this.

Prof McConkey said the hospital infrastructure in Ireland is not fit for purpose for a pandemic because he said many of the beds are within two metres of each other.

He said that many of the rooms in hospitals have six beds and it is difficult to stop staff caring for two people in beds beside each other.

Prof Ryan said we do not have a decision-making structure when it comes to testing and a scientific advisory committee is needed in Ireland.

He said we need to move to a find, test, trace strategy, with testing at airports and with a plan to move to mass testing.

Prof McConkey said the current testing and tracing controls are inadequate and there is an inevitability there will be more deaths in the coming weeks.

Prof Schaffer said there is not one step or measure to take and that more detail is required in terms of what can be done now.

She said it is worrying to see videos of house parties and more refined interventions are needed.

Prof Ryan said we should be looking at Finland because it appears to be the country dealing best with the pandemic.

Lockdowns 'not inevitable'

The chair of the Oireachtas Covid-19 committee has said that giving people choices rather than forcing lockdowns needs to be looked at as a more successful way to respond to the virus in the longer term.

Michael McNamara said that measuring the success of a lockdown is difficult and it must be asked whether the aim of a lockdown is to temporarily suppress the virus or is done for another reason.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Mr McNamara said that two counties - Offaly and Kildare - may face further restrictions after already having an additional three weeks of restrictions, which begs the question as to the success of the original measures taken.

Lockdowns are not inevitable, he said, adding that we need to consider is it possible to shield the vulnerable from the virus while allowing society to move and to operate more normally.

Mr McNamara said clearly there is a large concern that the spread of the virus is resulting in hospitalisations.

There are no easy answers, he said, but added that the messaging around gathering and limiting movements, for young people especially, could be more nuanced.