Professor Philip Nolan, the former chair of Nphet, has defended its response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the speed with which it recommended the wearing of masks and antigen testing.
Prof Nolan, who is now the director-general of Science Foundation Ireland, told Newstalk’s Pat Kenny show that it was easy to look back with hindsight and say that things should have been done differently, but at the time they were operating in real time and reacting as information came to light.
“We were dealing with a novel virus, we were dealing with incomplete information, science is frequently uncertain, and it’s important for scientists in putting together what they think the case is, to also be quite humble about what their data is showing at a particular point in time.
“In that context we had to formulate advice, so yes, you could look back and say what were the lessons learned?”
Prof Nolan pointed out that serial PCR testing in nursing homes had been introduced within 10 weeks of the onset of the pandemic.
“You’re dealing with things in real time when you’re going through them, and then you can look back with hindsight and say maybe we could have done things differently, and you could say in the next pandemic we’ll have learnt the lesson of maybe introducing masks earlier, the value of testing, ventilation and so on, however, the next pandemic might well be with a virus that transmits differently again.
“The really big lesson that we have to learn is how do we do rapid response trials of public health interventions.”
When asked why the HSE was conducting its own study on Long Covid when other studies are available, Prof Nolan said that several studies and several approaches were necessary to provide “a synthesis” to provide the “best guesstimate”.
“Rarely does one experiment or one study say we’ve done this, and now we understand exactly what’s going on and exactly how to intervene. In almost all forms of healthcare and medicine you need multiple trials to draw a valid conclusion.
“The big thing is to be prepared for something that behaves differently and to make sure that we have all of the apparatus in place to react even quicker than we did the last time.”