The Assembly Health Committee last Thursday invited Prof Ben Cowling to tell them how the pandemic was being dealt with in Hong Kong. Their invite came amidst local reports of nurses parties, ambulance golf weekends and medical social worker pizza parties, which were thought to be contributing to coronavirus cases, with the upping of Donegal to match Dublin at Level 3.

With 42,000 deaths in the UK, university students cocooned, more restrictions and an App that hardly works, another perspective was welcomed.  

Prof Cowling spoke of testing on arrival, testing weekly and temperature monitoring.

Colin McGrath of the SDLP asked about the decanting of care home residents and Gerry Carroll (PBP) asked about how Hong Kong ‘s 30-40 deaths in 7.4m compared with our 103 deaths. Hong Kong were using test, trace and Chinese App to prepare for a third wave in July and August.  Alex Easton (DUP) asked about face masks and the advanced purchase of vaccines through the WHO Co-Vax scheme.

Órlaithí Flynn (Sinn Féin) asked about infectivity and super-spreaders and was told that the situation was different as many had immunity having had SARS.

Alan Chambers (UUP) asked about tests and was told that hospitals used the same test but sometimes pooled samples  and analysis allowed for frequency and a reduction due to the pooling.

Ms Elaine Colgan Chief of Staff to the Chief Medical Officer attended with the Chief Scientific Advisor to advise on the regulations, explaining that data came through the Joint Bio Centre for the UK.

Ms Flynn asked about all-island data and EC said that there were legal difficulties to be overcome.

Pat Sheehan raised the case of Billy Caldwell, a severely epileptic boy whose mother has been seeking access to medicinal cannabis, and the committee agreed it would write about his case before the Minister came to the next meeting on 1 October.

With the Executive not appointing a head of the civil service and the Public health Agency losing its director of Public Health many problems lie ahead for the committee and for Boris. With as many scientists as virus in some parts maybe we need a Memorandum of Understanding between them and the politicians!

Dr Michael Donnelly MB, BCh, BAO is a clinical epidemiologist.