By Vivienne Clarke
Immunology expert Kingston Mills has called on the government to question airlines about the necessity for passenger flights into and out of Ireland.
“For the last number of weeks I’ve been looking on the Dublin airport website and seeing substantial numbers of passenger flights to-ing and fro-ing from Europe,” he told RTÉ radio’s Today with Séan O’Rourke show.
“The government has to talk to the airlines perhaps and say do you need to have these flights? Or put in place the restrictions already in place in New Zealand – I think there is a need for stricter measures here.
“That’s one element that caused a lot of problems early in the pandemic – we allowed flights still to come from Northern Italy and from other areas that brought in a lot of the early cases, now we have community spread of the virus and that’s a big issue.
“There were two ways of dealing with this – one you either keep people indoors and stop them from coming in contact with each other – that can be effective. The other way which China and Korea did very effectively is contact tracing of everybody who was in contact with somebody infected, we’re not doing that here,” he added.
However, Prof Kingston warned that this would completely overpower the testing facilities here. “We’re not doing contact tracing to the extent that it was done in China or Korea. The capacity is not there to do it.
“If somebody is infected in the community everybody who was in contact with them is not being tested. That needs to be done, if you want an alternative to lockdown.”
It was correct to prioritise health service workers for testing, he said, but the problem was that diagnoses were happening two weeks after people displayed symptoms and they would have recovered by the time the test results arrived.
“If we can identify those people and test them and show that they’ve developed antibodies, then we can, with a certain degree of confidence, say they’re likely to be protected against reinfection and therefore are safe to return to work.”
Prof Mills said that the universities were looking at developing antibody testing kits which would allow infected patients be tested and once they have developed sufficient antibodies they could be allowed back to work.
“It’s a huge new addition to the potential arsenal that’s coming down the line.”
Prof Mills said that the current figures for those infected with Covid-19 in Ireland were much lower than the actual figures.
“If the estimates from Germany are correct you’re talking about between five and 15 per cent of the entire population, not 6,000, but hundreds of thousands potentially infected and recovered.”