A leading Irish disease expert believes that on the country's current track there will be no inter-county GAA season this year, warning that the number of cases of Covid-19 will continue to rebound if restrictions on sports and wider society are eased while the disease is still spreading.
The Department of Health today announced five new deaths and 69 new cases in the Republic of Ireland, up from a handful of new cases this time last month.
Asked what he thought the current prospects were for completing the All-Ireland championships in 2020, UCC Professor Gerry Killeen, the college's Research Chair in Applied Pathogen Ecology, told the RTÉ GAA Podcast: "Safely, I would say zero.
"It’s not football, hurling or camogie, it’s all the things that we want to reopen, and there’s the tender trap.
"The bait that we have taken is that our authorities have all given us a little piece of the jigsaw puzzle to work on.
"For the GAA, it’s an insoluble puzzle. How do you play a game of hurling socially distanced? It’s not possible.
"How do you run a financially sustainable pub with a handful of customers every day, and you’ve got to run it at the level of a laboratory? How do you reopen a school without looking for trouble?
Oxymoron of the day: "Flatten the Curve". Epidemic curves naturally curve up or curve down but refuse to lie flat, so you don't get a stable equilibrium, you get roller coaster instead. Here's the first solid expert simulation for and from the UK, published online on March 16th: pic.twitter.com/QJvbdzPgyj— Gerry Killeen (@killeen_gerry) August 5, 2020
"These plans just don’t add up. They have been offloaded onto different sectors of society and it’s time for us all to just put down the Rubix cubes and say 'What’s our strategy?’.
"If you’re telling us to live with the virus, how long are you asking us to do that for? And what does that look like? Every simulation I look at, looks really really grim.
"It’s time to start taking these things seriously and time to stop digging ourselves into a bigger hole.
"Even to get back to where we were in late June is going to take us a couple of months at a minimum.
"Really talk about how we all work together on getting to that exit point. Have something in common with New Zealand, who have all been back to fully competitive sports and full stadiums for months."
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Killeen, who has experienced outbreaks of malaria and Ebola in Africa, praised the GAA for its "community-based approach" to tackling the virus and declared "Ireland is going to need the GAA before this is over".
However, he backed the Government's decision this week to delay the move to Phase 4 of the easing of restrictions, which would have increased the numbers allowed at outdoor events such as matches from 200 to 500.
"With the numbers growing so fast, there is no room for further relaxation. I think that’s a prudent decision," he said.
"It’s not the GAA per se. It’s not our pubs, our playgrounds, our small businesses. It’s the way that all these things add up.
"Lots of small risks add up to bigger risks, and what we’ve seen already is that we’re in a very different places to where we were at the end of June.
Killeen suggested that measures such as county-by-county travel restrictions might be needed to fully contain the outbreak.
"Many businesses, clubs and other aspects of society are operating at a level where we can keep going for a while but it’s not financially sustainable in the long term.
"The only thing that’s really recovering is the epidemic. So until we actually go after it… you can’t recover from an epidemic that’s not over."
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