‘We need wise, sober leadership.’
That was the call made today by an international health expert in an interview with Cork’s 96fm, after the first case of coronavirus was diagnosed in Cork last night.
Prof Samuel McConkey, Associate Professor and Head of the Department of International Health and Tropical Medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, told radio host PJ Coogan that a government spend of between €10bn and €30bn is necessary to protect Irish people from the disease.
As Cork becomes the first county in Ireland to have a community-acquired Covid-19 case, Prof McConkey described the situation as a ‘once in a century’ event.
“It’s going to be, I believe, as big an impact as the Civil War 100 years ago, so this is a very significant and very big incident that’s happening. It’s not just today or tomorrow, it’s likely to go on for a couple of years; six, nine, 24 months,” he said.
“We need a lot of planning now. Hopefully, a lot of businesses have already done a business continuity plan. If businesses have not done a continuity plan then they weren’t listening.”
‘An ‘all government’ response
Professor McConkey called on the government to introduce an ‘all of government’ response, with a significant investment of money and staff
“I propose we need four or five thousand people to move from other government departments, to help Dr Tony Holohan, the Chief Medical Officer, with the contact tracing. We need to reallocate public sector workers on a fairly large scale to help with this.”
In light of the case of community transmission in Cork, the first case in the Republic of Ireland, Professor McConkey highlighted the need for social distancing:
“People have to feel like they have a stake in society and that we’re in this together and not feel put out and maltreated and dispossessed. We need, quite urgently, some changes in society that make us feel like we’re part of the one group. That will involve political changes, it will involve religious leaders taking a lead, trade unionists taking a lead, sports clubs taking a lead.
“Unless we plan all this together as a cohesive social unit of Irish people, this virus will be much worse than what you are describing.”
‘We’re not sure what will happen’
Asked whether he is more concerned about the spread of COVID-19 than he was at the end of January, the professor said “Definitely.”
“This is a completely new virus and we’re not sure what will happen.
“If we behave like the folk on the cruise ship the Diamond Princess, the vast majority of us will catch this. We’ve seen how it spread to 700 people really rapidly on a cruise ship so if we have the sort of interactions with each other in Ireland that they had on the cruise ship, that will lead a very large number, like 20% of us, to get it and if 5% of those die, you’re looking at much more deaths than I had originally predicted.”
Addressing the calls to cancel St Patrick’s Day gatherings, Professor McConkey said the situation is evolving and mass cancellations of cultural gatherings may not necessarily be effective at halting the spread of the virus:
“What was true a week ago is different today,” he said.
“Because it’s outside, it’s less risk than being inside. Outside in the open air, the wind blows all this stuff away and dilutes it and the sun kills it, whereas when you’re inside, that would be a bigger problem.”
You can listen to the full interview with Prof Samuel McConkey on 96fm here.