Professor Luke O'Neill“It’s almost as if this virus was invented to torture the Irish.”

As heard on The Ryan Tubridy Show

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Immunologist and founder-director of Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute, Professor Luke O’Neill joined Ryan in studio on Wednesday to talk about the Coronavirus pandemic and to try to clear up some potentially confusing stories and notions around the virus. Can we safely re-open pubs? What about air travel, is it safe? And is everybody familiar with the three Cs? The three Cs were popularised in Japan and are a handy guide to staying safe as the country continues to re-open:

“Avoid the three Cs and you decrease your risk massively: Closed spaces is number one. That’s indoors. Close contact between people and crowds. They are the three Cs.”

As you listen to Prof O’Neill say this to Ryan, you can see where he’s going with it. In fact, if you had the resources (and if you were a big enough eejit) you could just go ahead and open a pub called The Three Cs. Because the three Cs pretty much sum up an Irish pub on any given weekend.

“The worst place of all is a pub. It’s almost as if this virus was invented to torture the Irish, you know? Because an Irish pub has all the three Cs. So if you want to re-open a pub – mitigate against those three Cs.”

But how do you do that in a pub that’s a potential destination for hundreds of people? Prof O’Neill has sympathy for pub owners, painting a picture of people wearing masks, using hand sanitizer, all while trying to sip their pint and eat their €9 meal. The truth seems to be that going to a pub in the near future is a risk, simple as that. And some people will choose to take that risk, while others won’t. As Ryan puts it, there’s a divide between the people who are saying, ‘we’re grand’ and those saying, ‘we’re not there yet’. To which Prof O’Neill responds:

“It’s human psychology. Some people, Ryan, will do a bungie jump, some won’t.”

Asked if he’s frightened, Prof O’Neill says he isn’t, in fact he’s optimistic, but he does have some notable worries: the main fear being that there won’t be a vaccine, something that he sees as a distinct possibility at this stage. His second fear is that there won’t be good medicine to treat sick people by the time Autumn comes around. But he’s optimistic that we’ll get past the pandemic if we trust the science:

“Science will get us out of this, by the way, there’s no question science is the answer.”

Finally, the conversation moved onto masks: to wear or not to wear? Again Prof O’Neill stressed the need to follow the science. Back in March, he said, he wasn’t sure about the efficacy of wearing a mask in places where social distancing wasn’t possible, because the science hadn’t been done. But in the last three months a lot of serious work has been done and the conclusion is that wearing a mask can literally be life-saving. Prof O’Neill put it this way to Ryan:

“If you and I are wearing masks now, it decreases our risk 99%. Isn’t that fantastic?”

So, according to Prof O’Neill, everybody is now on the same page when it comes to masks – when you can’t maintain two metres, wear a mask. Simple as.

To hear Ryan’s full conversation with Professor Luke O’Neill, go here. And you can access the HSE’s Coronavirus advice pages here.

Niall Ó Sioradáin

© The Listener 2020

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