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virus fight 'More dominant' approach needed to tackle Covid-19, WHO director Dr Mike Ryan says

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WHO's Dr Michael J. Ryan is to be honoured with the Bar of Ireland's annual Human Rights Award in recognition of his tireless work and leadership in public health.

WHO's Dr Michael J. Ryan is to be honoured with the Bar of Ireland's annual Human Rights Award in recognition of his tireless work and leadership in public health.

WHO's Dr Michael J. Ryan is to be honoured with the Bar of Ireland's annual Human Rights Award in recognition of his tireless work and leadership in public health.

A "more dominant" approach is needed in Ireland's fight against Covid-19, World Health Organisation (WHO) director Dr Mike Ryan has said.

The Irish-born WHO executive said hardened efforts are required in order to take back control from the virus.

Dr Ryan said this can be achieved through improved Covid-19 testing and contact tracing efforts, and a better understanding of what is driving transmission in communities.

"I think our problem in general around the world is that we spend more time catching up on this virus than we do on the virus catching up on us. So we have to get into a much more dominant position regarding the virus itself," Dr Ryan told the Sunday World.

"Up to now, the virus has been controlling us, we haven't been necessarily controlling the virus.

"And I think everyone has more work to do in that regard. Ireland, I think, was the first country in the European environment to turn this latest wave of disease around and deserves huge credit for that, but we also then need to follow through."

He continued: "We need to make sure that it's not just only the community that have to deal with this and suffer, but our public health architecture needs to be significantly strengthened, our ability to do strategic testing, the ability to quarantine contacts, and our ability to fundamentally understand the clusters and what's driving amplifications in the context of a country like Ireland," he said.

"A better understanding of that and more targeted control measures that don't involve lockdowns would obviously be the best way forward.

"Get the disease below. Keep it low. Plan for vaccination, do it well. And we get back to life, as we know it. that sounds awfully easy to say, that is very hard to achieve."

Asked about his view on the relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions over the festive period, Dr Ryan said a "very calibrated set of measures" will be needed in order to allow people to celebrate Christmas together.

This will have to be done while also managing the risk and aftermath the potential surge in infection small gatherings and increased movement could bring.

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"I think there's a genuine desire to offer people the hope of a celebration of Christmas and ensure that people have the opportunity to celebrate that to the extent possible with family, but recognizing movement and and large gatherings, in themselves can drive transmission," he explained.

"We do know that household transmission is a major factor because once you deal with community transmission, in terms of separating people from each other, you then have a situation where the majority of your infections come from households.

"Secondary transmission and households is highly dependent on the number of individuals in that household, the duration they spend there, and the level of the physical contact or otherwise with each other.

"How can we take the risk of the small gatherings, the family situations, how does everybody be careful, how do people find a way to reduce the risk of themselves and others?

"And that comes down to very clear advice from the government on how that can be done, and then a very calibrated set of measures that society can agree on. "

Dr Ryan added that easing restrictions to allow people spend time together over Christmas is a "genuine trade off" between what level of control is required on the virus versus the desire to be together.

"We have seen in the past that when restrictions are lifted, we see very often disease jumping back up and the question then becomes about how good is the testing the contact tracing and the quarantine for contacts, have the other systems stood up, are they there and are they able to deal with what will come after.

"It doesn't matter if an opening occurs before Christmas or after Christmas, it doesn't matter when the when occurs, there will be a natural jump, because once people start to mix again, the disease numbers may start to rise."

He said individuals can take steps themselves to minimise the risk of bringing the virus into the home, such as wearing a mask or frequently washing their hands.

"In reality if you have a highly vulnerable person in the house and you are coming from a place where you think you might be exposed, there are other options. Wearing a mask yourself. If you believe you are not infected but could be a risk to my parent to my parent or my brother or sister who has a physical disability or an underlying condition, then maybe I should wear the mask.

"Maybe I should wash my hands three times and hour and I should be very careful that I am the potential person who could bring this disease into the house.

"That doesn’t make you a bad person. That makes you a person that needs to be more responsible and more conscious of the risk you might bring into the household. If everyone just looks at their behaviour and how they can minimise their risk to others, then I believe we can de-risk the whole situation in that setting."

Dr Ryan also commended the leadership of chief medical officer, Dr Tony Holohan, deputy chief medical officer, Dr Ronan Glynn, the National Public Health and Emergency Team (Nphet), and the Government in their response to the pandemic.

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Dr Ryan commended the leadership of chief medical officer, Dr Tony Holohan, and deputy chief medical officer, Dr Ronan Glynn,

Dr Ryan commended the leadership of chief medical officer, Dr Tony Holohan, and deputy chief medical officer, Dr Ronan Glynn,

Dr Ryan commended the leadership of chief medical officer, Dr Tony Holohan, and deputy chief medical officer, Dr Ronan Glynn,

"I would commend, not only the community in Ireland, but you've had some great public leadership as well. There are people there they've given they've given their all as well.

"None of us are perfect and none of us get it right all the time. But you have had some great leadership in the likes of Tony Holohan and Ronan Glynn and others there in the Government, and beyond in Nphet, who are doing their level best," he said.

"I know there are frustrations, as there are frustrations with us in Geneva, but we need to support them in what they're doing, but also hold everyone, them and us here in Geneva to account for the decisions we make."

Dr Ryan was speaking ahead of The Bar of Ireland's virtual award ceremony this afternoon, where he will be presented with its 2020 Human Rights Award in recognition of his efforts in public health and leading the WHO's global response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The ceremony will be live streamed on The Bar of Ireland Twitter at 4.30pm today.

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