| 5.2°C Belfast

Coronavirus: It's not the time for blame game, says virus expert


Focus: Michael Donnelly

Focus: Michael Donnelly

Focus: Michael Donnelly

A Northern Ireland expert in viral epidemics has warned the public not to be fixated on comparing and contrasting death rates from Covid-19 between various countries until all the statistics are known.

Instead, clinical epidemiologist Dr Michael Donnelly said the focus should be on getting through this week's expected surge in the number of cases rather than playing blame games.

Dr Donnelly was reacting to an online debate prompted by writer and researcher in the history of medicine, Elaine Doyle.

Ms Doyle laid out statistics around death rates, comparing England to Ireland and citing the "slow" reaction of the UK Government as the reason why the death rate for those contracting the virus is 2.5 times greater in England than in Ireland.

"We should not be clutching at inaccurate straws as to the reason on death rates," said Dr Donnelly.

"It's like looking at a car speedometer. If it's faulty, do we go by what it reads and say that we are right?

"We will find out more about the figures next week when this really hits. Only then should we be looking more closely at the statistics.

"There are inaccuracies built into the reporting of statistics. Who's to say how many deaths there have been in the community in each country?

"Speculation isn't helpful unless all the facts are laid out before us, and right now that's not something we can say with any accuracy.

"There are differences in reporting between countries.

"Pointing fingers now, saying this or that would have made a difference, is not something we can realistically do with any certainty at this point.

"If we look at a country like Canada, it has a relatively small death rate through coronavirus, but it's essentially a very rural country where the population is spread across widely, similar to Ireland. But we still can't say for certain if that is a factor. There will be plenty of time afterwards to analyse curves and death rates.

"It may well suit a government to be putting out the idea that they're staying on top of this.

"And when it comes to the timing of school closures, we still don't know for certain if that had any real benefit. Was it wise to send children home to grandparents and family if it turns out they were carriers of the virus without displaying symptoms?

"There is far too much guesswork about it all at the minute for anyone to be making assertions on which was, or was not the right course of action.

"I have stated before that the people, the epidemiology (how the cases are distributed), the health systems and the mechanisms of death certification are all different, making meaningful comparisons difficult, like comparing apples and oranges to bananas."

On her Twitter thread which attracted thousands of responses, Elaine Doyle laid out which she said were the differences in approach between Ireland and the UK governments to managing the Covid-19 spread.

"So you have two English-speaking countries, with close cultural and historical associations, both with underfunded health systems, and comparable levels of ICU beds (almost half the EU average) going into the pandemic.

"But England has more than 2.5 times the deaths? Why?" she asked.

"But wait, it's worse! Because if you compare the per capita death rate between Ireland and England, rather than the UK as a whole, England has almost 2.5 times the number of deaths as Ireland (14.81 deaths per 100,000 versus 6.5 deaths per 100,000).

"As of Saturday, April 11, there have been 6.5 deaths per 100,000 people in Ireland.

"There have been 14.81 deaths per 100,000 people in the UK."

Ms Doyle was also critical of testing rates across the UK.

Belfast Telegraph