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Test and trace system under attack as Dublin and surroundings put into Level 3 shutdown


Róisín Shortall

Róisín Shortall

Róisín Shortall

IRELAND's test and trace system came under fire this weekend as restrictions were imposed on Dublin in a bid to stem a surge in coronavirus infections.

As businesses in the capital are counting the cost of the latest shutdown, the economy is facing months of more disruption when more upsurges of the virus emerge.

Social Democrat leader Rosin Shorthall said that an opportunity to get the system right has been missed and has left people in "precarious situations".

"It is not a sustainable strategy to shut down part of the country every time there is an upsurge in the virus," she said

During the summer lull in the rates of infection there was an "opportunity to get the system right and that wasn't taken", she said on RTE.

Professor of Public Health at University College Cork Ivan Perry said there is a need to "think through" the current strategy.

"I'm always reluctant to say we missed an opportunity because we are all doing this for the first time.

"There is a danger that we are in a pattern with the virus now where we tighten up restrictions and then we loosen them and then we may have to tighten them again," he told the Sunday World.

"We have to think through the strategy of living with the virus, as opposed to trying to get ahead of it, is in some ways better for the economy - and I'm not convinced that in the long run that is the case.

"There are very significant risks to living with the virus from both a public health perspective but also from the economic perspective," said Prof Perry.

"What is becoming clearer with every passing day, it's not public health or the economy - the economy won't recover until we implement the public health strategies that are needed to really control the virus," he added.

The World Health Organisation's Mike Ryan said this weekend that "countries will have to do far more if they want to suppress the virus".

Speaking earlier at the WHO's weekly press conference he warned that the coronavirus is "not going away" and that it's still killing about 50,000 people a week. "That is not where we want to be," he said.

"It's not where the northern hemisphere wants to be going into the winter season. It's not where developing countries want to be with their health services under nine months of pressure."

Dr Ryan said the virus still has a "long way to burn" as worrying trends continued to emerge around the world.

"It has not burned out, it is not burning out, it is not going away and especially for those countries entering their winter season in terms of people coming together more indoors.

"There's a lot of work to do in order to avoid amplification events, drive down transmission of this epidemic, protect the opening of schools, and protect the most vulnerable in our society from severe disease and death," he said.

"The energy has not gone out of this pandemic. There's a lot of energy left in this spring and this can drive the pandemic forward," added Dr Ryan.

Last night the figures from the Department of Health showed that while there were no new deaths there were 274 new cases of the virus of which 166 were in the Dublin area.

Speaking on RTE Radio 1 yesterday Taoiseach Micheal Martin urged people in Ireland to "stick with it" because science and research "will get on top of this, as they have done with other viruses".

Mr Martin added that Level Three is "not a lockdown" and is "nowhere near the lockdown we had". The retail, education and construction sectors are all still open and people are not restricted to a 5km limit, he said.

"There is one sector that is taking a terrible hit and that is hospitality, tourism and travel. That whole area is the one most impacted, not just here but across the world."

Amid angry responses from some business owners he said the virus is growing "fairly significantly" and the advice from NPHET was to "act urgently".

"If we don't do anything, we're looking at a thousand a day in a month. And he was only looking out four to five weeks.

"We know what Level Two is and what Level One is, and we can get to those - if we can work collectively to nip this in the bud and adhere to the guidance."

He denied reports the National Public Health Emergency Team had wanted to see Level Four restrictions imposed in Dublin and Level Three in the rest of Ireland.

The Taoiseach also said a decision on pandemic payments that saw the level drop from €350 to €300 would be kept under review and be changed if needed.