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Northern Ireland medic called in to assist with No 10's coronavirus response


Ian Goodfellow says people adopting changes in their behaviour can help combat the virus

Ian Goodfellow says people adopting changes in their behaviour can help combat the virus

Ian Goodfellow says people adopting changes in their behaviour can help combat the virus

A Northern Ireland-born virologist who was on the front line of the fightback against the Ebola virus has been drafted in by the UK Government to help battle the deadly coronavirus outbreak.

Ian Goodfellow (47), from Londonderry, is a Professor of Virology at the University of Cambridge.

His team set up and ran Sierra Leone's first diagnostic laboratories during the 2014 outbreak which killed 11,000 people, and he is now lending his expertise to a government panel on how to best beat the new virus sweeping the world.

He said he is hopeful that ongoing clinical trials taking place now will lead to medication to curb the virus, but added we can all play our part in slowing coronavirus down.

"At this point I think that it is really important that people don't panic," he said.

"But I do think we need to take the messages that are being pushed out by the Government seriously. This all involves changing behaviour and planning ahead in case the cases ramp up.

"Subtle changes in behaviour can have a major impact on the transmission of this disease. Hand washing is a big, big thing. People get a bit bored of hearing it, but it is so important, particularly for this type of virus.

"Shaking hands is a very good way of transmitting the virus from one person to another. And also I think we need to be very aware what we are doing with our hands, so that we are not touching our faces.

"And something that I think is not so much discussed is having a sense of social responsibility. Most of us who get the coronavirus will be perfectly fine, we are going to recover and there will be no long lasting effects.

"The more we slow down the outbreak, we can protect the people in the population who are very vulnerable, such as people who are asthmatic, have underlying respiratory problems, the elderly.

"The more things we can collectively do, the less likely these viruses are going to breach these susceptible people."

Prof Goodfellow said while the unknown can cause the most fear, we can take control by changing our behaviours.

"It is most likely that there are going to be more deaths," he added. "But if we act now, we are still at a point in the epidemic where we can make changes in our behaviour and we prepare for this, we can really have a major impact on controlling the outbreak.

"At this point it is not about panic, it's about taking a sensible approach.

"A really important message to get out there is that if people think they are sick, if they think they have coronavirus, that they do not go to work, they do not go to hospital, they follow the NHS hotline instructions."

Prof Goodfellow added that Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK are in a good place with an integrated health system open to all.

"Northern Ireland is just as much at risk as the rest of the UK," he said.

"And that is probably because of international movements, there are a lot of people moving back and forward. But I think that it is fair to say that of all the nations that have been affected, the UK would be one of the best prepared in many ways.

"There are certain things that are already in place. We have an integrated healthcare system. We have very good diagnostics scattered throughout Northern Ireland, the UK and indeed every part of Ireland."

Prof Goodfellow said he was "cautiously optimistic" about developing a drug to combat coronavirus.

"But even if we do find a drug, and when we do, the best thing that we can do is really change our behaviour in a way that minimises the spread of the virus," he said.

"Because some of these drugs may take a while to become available. We may not have access to them, there might not be enough of them. The more we can do now to protect the vulnerable people in our population the better."

Belfast Telegraph