I believe the latest pronouncements from NPHET regarding moving to a national Level 5 lockdown need to be vigorously challenged by both medical opinion leaders and by Government.

There are key understandings regarding Covid 19 that those in administration and healthcare provision are well aware of  and need to act on in the interests of Ireland’s economic wellbeing!

We know that social distancing, isolating, mask wearing and cough etiquette controls are key to reducing disease transmission in community and that high level PPE and infection protocols can protect our healthcare workers. We know that the elderly, those with underlying illnesses and those who are significantly overweight are most vulnerable and likely to need hospital access and perhaps ICU treatments.

We also know that in order to keep the disease contained to a manageable degree we need early warning of Infection breakouts which can only be achieved by rapid testing, diagnosis and tracing all delivered within ideally 2 days of test. In addition we know a significant proportion of those actively spreading the virus are unaware of the fact as they are ‘presymptomatic’ or ‘asymptomatic’ therefore we need a strategy to target these ‘spreaders’ too.

To do all of this successfully Government and HSE have been trying to ramp up weekly testing numbers to 100,000 tests per week. To date since the beginning of the outbreak in March we have failed to meet that target  – In the last 2 weeks Government announced recruitment of an additional 700 ‘swabbers and testers’ to add to the effort but many of these will be replacing existing healthcare staff who must deploy back to their previous duty. The fact of the matter as it appears that we cannot provide the testing regime required to combat the resurgence of this virus with our present testing protocols and resources and therefore lockdown is the only option on the table – Or is it?

I am calling on NPHET to now approve the use of rapid point of care diagnostic Covid tests –  Information on some of these I referred to them over 12 weeks ago!

These tests can be easily deployed in community or in the workplace, take 15 minutes to complete and are at an accuracy level close to the PCR test presently employed.  A ‘positive” resulting from this test could then isolate while awaiting the GP referred Covid pathway test which will include follow up tracing required. This type of test is the same as the one which the White House used that first identified Covid infecting President Trump.

As a TD for Waterford city and county which has managed the Covid situation very well, I reject the idea that we should have to paralyse our regional businesses and society so that a national political message can be sent. I also reject the idea that our city and region should have to close down to match activity in Dublin when our disease pathway has been of far lesser order from the outset.

Our regional and rural communities and businesses cannot easily overcome the economic or social consequences of another regional or national lockdown. This is especially true when there are other options available that are either being ignored or denied ‘roll out’ because of the ‘group think’ of a handful of medical thought leaders who are largely unanswerable even to their peers!

It is time for Political Leadership to come to the fore on these issues!

Matt Shanahan

Independent TD,  Waterford

Member of the ‘Regional Group’,  Dáil Eireann

Committee Member, National Covid Committee