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Lockdown critique Trinity professor says Covid deaths could have been avoided if 'we had done what was necessary' earlier

'I think the politicians in general were for opening up. They said it's time to open up, people need their Christmas, but that was a huge mistake unfortunately'

A top professor at Trinity College in Dublin has said that many of the deaths attributed to Covid this year could have been avoided if the right actions, such as mandatory hotel quarantine, were taken sooner.

Aoife McLysaght, a professor in genetics, is involved in the Independent Scientific Advocacy Group that she says is trying to get information out to the public and to the government about how “we should be doing better at tackling this whole pandemic”.

Professor McLysaght stressed that they were not an anti-Government group but were a collection of individuals including “experienced public health doctors and epidemiologists who have dealt with outbreaks before”.

“So these are people who know what they are talking about,” she said. “We made ourselves very unpopular in November and December when we were saying that we shouldn't reopen for Christmas and that we couldn't just reopen restaurants and shops.

“That was really unpopular. A lot of your group were getting a lot of emails from people saying how horrible we were and that we hated everybody .

“I mean it was really unpopular because people were frustrated. But I think the Government let people believe that we could just open up and it would be okay, and we paid a huge price for that.

“That is the reason we're in a six month lock down and that's the reason we had 2,000 deaths in January…because we opened up for the sake of three weeks.

“The numbers were coming down at that point and if we'd waited a few more weeks we would actually have got it right down. It would have been like last summer again where we were getting on top of again. We've been for too long chasing behind this and we need to get ahead of it.”

Professor Lysaght said there is no easy solution, “so anything we say is going to be unpopular in some regard”.

“We all wish this was over,” she added. “We all wish that this didn't have to happen but there's no easy solution.

"You're always going to be unpopular with somebody when you when you say that something needs to be done.

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"I think the politicians in general were for opening up, nearly every party, not just the Government parties. They said it's time to open up, people need their Christmas, but that was a huge mistake unfortunately.

"We've had a huge amount of death just in 2021, just after Christmas even, and that's why I think it's not fair. Some of those deaths could have been prevented if we had done what was necessary correctly the first time.”

“Last summer when we did our first lockdown when everybody was in it together. It worked. We did everything we could have done but the Government let us down because they didn't bring in hotel quarantine then when they should have.

“Mandatory hotel quarantine is very unpopular, it is not a nice thing to do, it's very uncomfortable and it's a massive inconvenience. But it's a massive inconvenience for the smallest number of people. And by not doing it sooner we're now having a huge inconvenience for basically everybody.

“It was obvious last year that hotel quarantining needed to be done. It is a classic case of public health intervention, it's as old as the hills. It just means you catch cases at the border instead of letting them come in and spread before you notice.

“So that's a simple thing that should have been done. We are doing it now but we're not doing it comprehensively and now, instead of it being one person in a hotel who has an infection, it becomes 100 people in a town and then you're trying to trace who has caught it.

"Nphet asked for it in May, actually, and if we had done what Nphet had asked we would be living a much more comfortable life, we would have had a much nicer year and we would have had much less death as well."

According to Professor McLysaght, as a country we've been in lockdown for such a huge amount of time but “we haven't got the benefit of it”.

“We still have really high case numbers and it's because there are certain structural things that the government isn't doing right. The way I look at it is I think we have done our part but the government has not done their part.

“There's nothing more you could ask the people really, you know, we've all been in lockdown for so long, people have been working from home when they can, and doing all of these things.

“We’ve had the longest lockdown of anywhere as far as I know and the reason I think it's unfair is that it hasn't been balanced, it hasn't been even and it's been sufficiently inconsistent.

“It has been not backed up by changes and actions by the Government. We should have been able to enjoy a more normal life by now.”

As for when we could be a Covid-free Ireland, Professor Lysaght said it was always “potentially just a few weeks away”.

“And that is the frustrating thing. If we had taken the right steps in January, we would have been well on our way.

“I'm an optimist but I'm also a realist. I'm an optimist because I think things can get better but I realise that you can't just sit back and cross your fingers.

“I always think that things can get better and there are things we can do. There are steps we need to take so it's always just a few weeks away and I think and the vaccines definitely make it easier and they make it faster.

“No matter how bad it is it's always possible to get out of it, if we take the right steps first. But like I said it's not you or I who can just spontaneously take these steps. It has to be done at an organisational level.”

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