World Health Organization Executive Director Dr Mike Ryan has said the arrival of vaccines will not mean zero Covid-19.

Speaking to Irish journalists before receiving this year's Human Rights Award from the Bar of Ireland, Dr Ryan said we need to add the vaccines to our existing toolkit to fight the disease.

However, he said that vaccines can be a major tool for controlling the virus without highly disruptive lockdowns, and said that if we can get high levels of control then we can return to life as we know it.

Earlier, the WHO director said the Government's tactics in relation to the easing of restrictions for the Christmas period will affect the outcome.

He said while there is a genuine desire to offer people the hope of celebrations at Christmas, it must be recognised that movement of people does lead to increased transmission of Covid-19.

Dr Ryan said each individual will have to do their own risk calculations in relation to the environments they find themselves in over the Christmas period and the risk of Covid-19 infection.

He said that this is particularly true for older individuals and people with underlying health conditions who are the most at risk of adverse outcomes from Covid-19.

He added that the requirement to reduce the risk of transmission among people in small gatherings, including household gatherings, will require very clear advice from the Government, as well as dialogue and agreement about what society can agree on.

Dr Ryan said that since the relaxation of restrictions will inevitably lead to an increase in virus transmission, issues related to contract tracing, isolation of cases and other controls will become more important in order to gain greater control and limit any subsequent increase in incidence.

He also said that he did not envy the Government's task on this issue and that there are no easy answers, but that open dialogue between the Government and community was very important.

He said people in Ireland have done very well to date and that Ireland was the first country in Europe to bend the curve in the second wave of the virus.

Dr Ryan is the winner of this year's Bar of Ireland Human Rights Award, in recognition of his "tireless work and leadership in the field of public health".

The award was presented virtually later this afternoon.

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Chair of The Bar of Ireland Maura McNally SC, said Dr Ryan "quite literally put his life on the line in the course of his work to defend people's human right to health - a right so highlighted in 2020 - and for that reason, he is a most deserving recipient of The Bar of Ireland's Human Rights Award".

She said the fact that the response of the WHO to the Covid-19 pandemic is headed up by an Irish man "has been a particular source of pride and comfort for people in this country".

Dr Ryan joined the WHO in 1996 to work in a newly established unit to respond to emerging and epidemic disease threats and, among several positions held in the organisation, he was the Operational Coordinator of WHO's response to the SARS outbreak in 2003.


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Additional reporting: Orla O'Donnell