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Coronavirus: Fermanagh's Dr Greg Kelly on why competitive edge can speed up vaccine search



Right decision: Fermanagh chief Dr Greg Kelly

Right decision: Fermanagh chief Dr Greg Kelly

Right decision: Fermanagh chief Dr Greg Kelly

Rolling news channels, podcasts and Twitter have made overnight experts of us all on the coronavirus.

The moves from the Irish government to ban mass meetings and public events, followed by the swift action of the GAA to call a halt to all activities, has led to a low-grade mild hysteria with panic buying of long-life foodstuffs, hand sanitisers and breathing masks.

That last item has caused mild bemusement for the Fermanagh county board chairman, Dr Greg Kelly, a biochemist who worked in the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast before a couple of decades spent teaching biology and the sciences in Mount Lourdes Grammar School in Enniskillen.

"This thing of going around wearing masks to me is a load of rubbish," he said. "A virus is so small it would get through the pores in a mask that are there for you to breathe. It doesn't make sense at all.

"You might stop bacterial infections because a bacterium, while you need a microscope to see it, is very small but it is much bigger than a virus. I can't see a mask stopping a virus, but then it kind of reassures people."

Kelly wears his doctorate lightly. Few around his native county would even be aware of it and he is reluctant to cast himself in any role as an 'expert', but you can rest assured he knows more than most on the subject of coronavirus.

"It jumped from bats to a panda, it seems, to humans and it had never been found in humans before," he stated. "It can jump from one species to another and this is the first time it has been found in humans, and that's why they haven't found a vaccine for it and it's going to take them some time to find enough samples of the virus to either kill it or make the vaccine. That could take months."

However, the efforts of big pharmaceutical companies will be concentrated, Kelly believes.

"They will all be battling to be the first to produce a vaccine. They will have to put money into research and development. If they succeed and get there first, then there are big rewards. It would speed it up rather than hold it up," he said.

"A virus is a very small particle. It's just a lump of RNA (Ribonucleic acid) in this case, surrounded by a protein envelope. It can't reproduce on its own, it has to get into a cell of a higher organism, a mammal, and then it uses the reproductive apparatus of that cell to reproduce copies of itself.

"Then it bursts out of the cell and spreads into another cell. That's how it reproduces."

Kelly was quite satisfied and happy to see the course the GAA took.

"We were just going to follow the advice really. If an outbreak happened in Fermanagh because it was traced back to an under-age match, an 11-year-old goes home with an infection and passes it to his grandparents…" he said.

"It doesn't do much damage to young people, but they can carry it home so you don't want to be responsible for any of that."

One consequence of a delay in Gaelic games will be more pressure on Competition Control Committees when play does eventually resume. Nobody knows when that will be, despite the holding target of March 29.

But it has upset the delicate balance that Kelly's vice-chairman, Phil Flanagan, had created in the county, with 17 consecutive weeks of club action set out for the club player, irrespective of how the county team fared over the summer.

In these strange times, some occupations are in a state of flux, such as Cork footballer Paul Kerrigan who teaches in Coláiste Chríost Rí, a school of 600 pupils in Cork city.

"At this stage, the school have an email for every student and from a work point of view we would be emailing out work, putting it up on the cloud," he said.

"As for the fear thing, some people will say, 'It'll sort itself out and everything will be grand', but it probably won't. So with things shut down, it might waken people up to how serious it is."

Inside the school, it has been a nervy time.

"I could meet 100 young fellas a day, and they all have different lives and whatever," he said.

"Most teachers would tell you when you go back to school after the summer, you would nearly take some sort of a cold anyway just because your immune system is low.

"If the coronavirus did get into the school, it would probably spread like wildfire."

From a footballing perspective, Páirc Uí Chaoimh was being dressed for a coronation tomorrow when the Rebels, with five wins from five in Division Three, were set to seal their return to Division Two - and avoid Tier Two summer football - with a win over Louth, who have lost all their games so far.

Of course, nothing now is guaranteed. Different methods of proceeding from here will be explored in the coming weeks but the introduction of a second tier in football adds in a toxic complication.

"I thought this game might go away and then they might break it up," said Kerrigan.

"Obviously now, we have only got the message that training is cancelled and we will probably get another message to say what is expected of us over the next while so I suppose everything is up in the air at the moment."

However, he's not expecting that teams will jump straight back into action the moment the blanket ban ends after March 29.

"I'd say it will be two weeks and then wait and see, and then off for another two weeks in terms of the schedule," he said.

Like many others, Clare manager Colm Collins, the longest-serving county manager in Gaelic football behind Mickey Harte, finds himself in a strange position. Self-employed fitting wooden flooring, he does not expect huge interruption to his working life.

This weekend, his side were due to face Fermanagh in Ennis, with a chance of slipping into relegation bother and tipping into Tier Two.

But consider this scenario. If they had beaten Fermanagh, their last game would have been in Ennis against an Armagh side that could have promotion already wrapped up by then with a home win over Roscommon.

And, outside of their control, if Kildare beat Cavan at home, and Cavan beat Roscommon at home - for the second year in a row - then Clare could go up to Division One, on eight points.

Such thoughts, at present, are miles away for Collins.

"I am very conscious because my own dad has got COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and he is 87. If anything happened that he would get this, he would be in big trouble, so I couldn't get the craic with the numbers. There could be five people at something and if one person has it, it is trouble," he explained.

"The one thing that made me laugh was this directive of (banning) indoor meetings of 100 or more, or 500 or more outside. I mean, that doesn't make any sense."

Already, some club teams have been having private conversations in which they are floating the idea of meeting in small groups. The Gaelic Players' Association have been quick to rule that out among county squads, reminding players that they would not be insured in such an event.

It's limbo for county managers everywhere.

"You are just waiting for direction from people who would know better," said Collins.

"The GPA circulated something with us in the morning and our answer was, 'Whatever is for the good, we are in favour of'. Whatever measures are needed, we were all for.

"From my point of view, I didn't know a whole pile about it. We were listening to what people were saying and taking all the precautions; individual water bottles etc, and all the warnings about washing hands. That's about all you could do."

As of now, Clare are scheduled to face Tipperary in the Munster Senior Championship on May 9. Without the ability to collectively train, attention will turn to the individual.

"I suppose the important thing is to use this as an opportunity and the stuff that they would be doing pre-training, they could put a lot more emphasis on it over the next while. You can't let any sort of opportunity go," added Collins.

"It is not the end of the world. We just have to use it as an opportunity. Sometimes, maybe the break will do the players good.

"You are going from game to game in the league and every night you are trying to cover bases of little things you saw go wrong the weekend before.

"Maybe this little break wouldn't do them any harm at all."

Belfast Telegraph