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We must not rush out of lockdown or we risk experiencing a second large and deadly peak

Connor Bamford



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'We must control Covid-19 until we can find a vaccine or a safe and effective treatment'

'We must control Covid-19 until we can find a vaccine or a safe and effective treatment'

'We must control Covid-19 until we can find a vaccine or a safe and effective treatment'

We must control Covid-19 until we can find a vaccine or a safe and effective treatment.

If we relieve lockdown now - without appropriate additional controls - the most vulnerable people will get sick and die unnecessarily.

Northern Ireland, along with most of the world, is currently in the grip of an unprecedented global crisis that nobody is really sure how to get out of.

The Covid-19 pandemic, which is caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2, has spread right across the world and infiltrated nearly every community and society it can.

Spread through respiratory droplets that can be transmitted by people even without overt symptoms, SARS-CoV-2 has killed hundreds in Northern Ireland alone and likely infected many, many more.

Looking at the numbers of deaths and confirmed cases, it is clear that during March, SARS-CoV-2 established itself in Northern Ireland and began to spread rapidly until lockdown and social distancing robustly blunted the epidemic.

However, while the speed of rise of new cases has been slowed, the peak has only been flattened, resulting in still a significant 'tail' of new cases and deaths that is reducing only very slowly. This continued spread in the face of lockdown is likely driven by the remaining social interactions, the silent nature of SARS-CoV-2, and by outbreaks in the care sector and hospital settings.

While it is likely in the best interests of society, the economy and our livelihoods to relieve lockdown - albeit slowly - it must be done hand-in-hand with increasing other measures

What we can take from this is that SARS-CoV-2 is very much still out there in the community and just like what happened in early March, without strong social distancing and 'lockdown-like' conditions, we could see another large and deadly second peak. How then can we get out of lockdown safely and get our communities back up and running if SARS-CoV-2 is still here?

It is not exactly true that there is no strategy to escape this; public health experts backed by science have some very good ideas of how we can proceed.

While it is likely in the best interests of society, the economy and our livelihoods to relieve lockdown - albeit slowly - it must be done hand-in-hand with increasing other measures, such as testing, tracing and isolating while maintaining rigorous social distancing.

Given that much of SARS-CoV-2 spread is achieved by people who are not very sick, quickly identifying them and their contacts and taking them out of the community should mitigate much of the risk that relieving lockdown runs.

Furthermore, we must look to other countries both near and far for support and inspiration and remember that only by working together will we eliminate the threat of Covid-19 forever.

Dr Connor Bamford is a virologist based at Queen's University, Belfast

Belfast Telegraph