‘Difficult to disentangle’ whether COVID-19 surge due to socialising or new strain – McConkey

An infectious diseases expert said he is “confident” social distancing measures will be effective in combating the spread of a new strain of COVID-19 in Ireland.

Professor Sam McConkey, from the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland, said that a high level of compliance with public health guidelines is needed to halt a surge in cases.

The new strain of the virus, which was first detected in the UK, is believed to be more infectious and rapid-spreading.

The variant is likely to be present in Ireland and the Government is said to be watching what’s happening in the UK regarding the spike in cases “very closely”.

Professor McConkey said there hasn’t been enough data yet on whether the new strain is “definitive” as the spread of the virus in areas of London and the south-east may be down to people socialising.

He told The Hard Shoulder: “I think we’re certainly in a big pickle [in Ireland] and there’s a lot of COVID-19 around, it’s really spreading and the rate of growth is exceptionally high.

“But whether that’s down to socialising and physical interactions or down to the new strain, it’s difficult to disentangle the appropriate contribution of each of those.

“I’m confident that the social distancing that has been effective all over the world in different countries that have tried it will work here.

“What we need is really high adherence and compliance so we don’t have outbreaks in local counties or communities where people don’t stay away from each other.”

New restrictions

His comments come after Cabinet approved new COVID-19 restrictions which will see full level five measures in place for “at least” one month.

Professor McConkey said he is hopeful that the lockdown will help to slow the spread of the virus after a record 1,718 new cases and 13 further deaths were confirmed in Ireland today.

Recent figures are higher than “even the worst times in March and April”, he added, while there are more individuals in the country with the virus who never received a positive test.

He said it is obvious that “dramatic action” was needed in response to the recent surge, and he hopes it will be enough to reduce the transmissions.

Professor McConkey added that other measures could also have been considered, such as closing down construction, coordinating with Northern Ireland, or allowing incoming travellers to quarantine in hotels.

Main image: Social distancing signs in Phoenix Park, Dublin. Credit: PA