Dr Martin Coyne, Lifford
A Donegal GP has warned unless mavericks were actually sanctioned for not adhering to Covid-19 restrictions, it would be "virtually impossible" to get rid of this "terrifying virus".
That was the stark and direct message from Lifford GP, Dr Martin Coyne on Wednesday night when he spoke on Virgin One's Tonight Show from the Lifford-Strabane border.
Speaking live on the programme to Ciara Doherty, Dr Coyne pulled no punches in relation to his thoughts on the problem.
Reacting to the new restrictions imposed for both sides of the border this evening, Dr Coyne said these were good because the restrictions were now beginning to mirror each other to a degree.
"So people will not be going across the border to get goods where they could not get them in the South and similarly there will be less inclination for people in the North to come into the South.
"We really need to be working on the same page, both sides of the border and as far as possible the restrictions should be the same on both sides of the border," he said.
He recounted his own experiences in the Lifford area during Level 3 and was very clear why matters had not improved here.
"There's been too much movement over the border, too many people mixing with family, with friends, people taking advantage of the laxer restrictions in the North where they could go to the pub or go mix socially where they couldn't do it in the South. I think that led to a blunting of the effect of Level 3 restrictions with us."
Dr Coyne outlined how that manifested itself within his own practice.
"We had a huge increase in the number of Covid-19 patients diagnosed in the practice over the four weeks. We've had 115 patients at this point which is very worrying and there really wasn't any great deceleration after Level 3 came in - perhaps some encouraging signs just this week but that's just on a practice level, not on a county wide level," he said.
He said they started off seeing quite a number of younger patients, patients who had been out socialising but now the worrying thing because it has moved into people's homes is that they were seeing an increasingly older patient group catching the virus and that was very concerning for them as their doctors.
He added he wasn't absolutely convinced that differences here and across the border such as school openings and eating out in a pub or restaurant were that serious.
"Because I think so much of what is going on comes down to an individual's behaviour rather than those types of restrictions. individuals have to take ownership of what's happening here.
"What is very concerning is the very high rates of infection like 900 per 100,000 over a two-week period with 350 in Lifford which is odd that there's such a difference. These are huge rates of terrifying transmission of the virus."
He also spoke about contact tracing or rather the lack of it between both jurisdictions.
"Unfortunately the border is there when it comes to contact tracing and Public Health don't go across the border on either side. There's also a difference in the way we test. In the South we test both symptomatic and asymptomatic contacts whereas in the North they just test symptomatic people so in fact the North's numbers may actually be higher than they appear and that spill over is terrifying for us here in Donegal."
Pushed further on this by Ms Doherty, Dr Coyne said it would be impossible for contact tracing to happen if for example a person had visited different locations in Northern Ireland.
"It would be impossible to do it and that has made it really difficult for us to deal with it at practice level because we have actually tried to do some of the contact tracing ourselves in a very poor way because we're not public health doctors but if you can't get that cooperation at border level it's very, very difficult. That can't be set up overnight.
"We have cooperation obviously at ministerial level and chief medical officer level but you can't suddenly set up these sort of arrangements at border level over night."
Dr Coyle said the onus was on the individual to take responsibility for their own actions.
"Level 3 probably would have been adequate if everybody had stuck to it. Level 4 will be adequate if people stick to it but unfortunately we will have the mavericks out there who refuse to stick to any sort of restriction so you can go to level 'whatever you want' but unless you are going to impose restrictions on people and actually sanction people for not adhering to the level you go to, we're all going to be in the same boat
"Elimination is going to be virtually impossible without individuals really taking ownership of this terrifying virus ...and it is a terrifying virus," he said.
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