Immunology Professor Hopes People Remain COVID Cautious Amid Mask Mandate Removal

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Professor Luke O'Neill has said members of the public should continue to wear masks in appropriate settings in the weeks ahead, even if the legal advice is removed.

Professor Luke O'Neill is encouraging people to remain cautious of COVID-19 threats as Ireland prepares for the removal of mask mandates. The Trinity College Dublin Immunology professor believes COVID-19 “is still there” and feels the public should continue using face coverings in appropriate settings for the weeks ahead.

O’Neil fears the removal of restrictions, mixed with limited opportunities to socialise outdoors, could prove disruptive to Ireland’s control of the virus thus far. The legal requirement to wear masks in shops and public transport is now set to be abolished, with customers and workers no longer be required to wear masks.

Meanwhile, the full removal of COVID-19 measures in schools and childcare settings including physical distancing and pods has also been recommended. Speaking in a radio interview, Professor O’Neill said vulnerable people are nervous about the prospect of others choosing not to wear masks in public indoor settings.

It’s still wintertime and the virus is still there. We should still encourage people to wear masks in indoor settings… It’s just it's not going to be illegal anymore not to wear them. The ones we worry about now are the immunocompromised people… they’re very worried. Public transport is a big fearful place for them.

The Trinity professor feels people should remain cautious of the potential for a more “malign” variant than Omicron emerging - such as its BA.2 subvariant. However, O’Neill believes Ireland is in a “fantastic place” thanks to its vaccination programme.

He added that vaccines have eased concerns of the healthcare systems being overrun, while there is growing optimism that existing vaccines will also offer protection against emerging variants. Prof O’Neill said future booster programmes will likely focus on vulnerable groups and older people; as is the case with seasonal flue.

Flu’s the great parallel, really - vaccinate the vulnerable every winter. Next winter, we can anticipate another vaccination campaign - just like flu, it will be in the vaccine schedule for vulnerable and older people. That vaccine might be against Omicron or might be a pan-coronavirus vaccine by then that can handle any variant.”

Professor O'Neill added that anti-viral drugs, such as the ones which have been developed by Merck and Pfizer, will play a key role in battling the pandemic going forward.

I can’t emphasise enough that we have an antiviral [as well] - if you’re in your 30s and you get infected, take an antiviral and it will handle the virus quite well.”

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