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Personal responsibility key to roadmap's success, says medic

Horgan: Risk for outdoor activity is much lower than indoor

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Prof Mary Horgan: Twenty-fold lower risk for outdoor activity. Photo: Kenneth O Halloran

Prof Mary Horgan: Twenty-fold lower risk for outdoor activity. Photo: Kenneth O Halloran

Prof Mary Horgan: Twenty-fold lower risk for outdoor activity. Photo: Kenneth O Halloran

One of the country's leading authorities on infectious diseases has warned that the GAA's guidelines will need to be strictly adhered to if the association is to fulfil the ambitious series of games scheduled between now and Christmas.

Professor Mary Horgan, who has advised World Rugby on their return-to-play protocols and also sits on the GAA's Covid-19 advisory group, insists that individual behaviours around the various measures designed to prevent the spread of Covid-19 have "a huge impact on the ability of the games to continue".

A consultant in infectious diseases, Professor Horgan insisted that anyone with symptoms must "stay at home" as the GAA edges back towards matches in the coming weeks.

"What I would say is that self-responsibility has a huge impact on the ability of the games to continue," Professor Horgan said.

"It needs to be taken seriously first and foremost. The paperwork may seem onerous and someone mentioned, 'Oh gosh, it's a lot to do', but people need to understand it is serious.

"If we want to stay where we are at now you have to understand what the symptoms are, what you can do to stop it being spread, and what you can do to protect yourself.

"And when you do that individually it has a positive knock-on effect to your team-mates and spectators."

"I know it sounds like saying the same old thing but that hand hygiene, the cough etiquette (is important). So not come to play if you have any of the symptoms, particularly fever and cough. Stay at home, call your doctor and get tested."

Professor Horgan explained why the GAA felt comfortable enough to move forward with a return to play.

"The key change is the dramatic reduction in the number of cases in the country. They really peaked around mid to late April and since that time the number of cases has dramatically decreased. And why is that the case?

"Really because of what is called non-pharmaceutical interventions. In other words, the things we did as people - the washing of the hands, social distancing, cough etiquette and more recently the face mask in closed, crowded conditions. And in addition to that, the testing, tracing and isolating of those who are positive. So it was a combination of things."

Horgan also explained that the fact that Gaelic games are played outdoors, combined with the limited periods of contact in the game, mean that risk is reduced significantly.

"There are a number of studies now, but activities outdoors versus indoors there is probably about a twenty-fold lower risk of getting Covid which is huge when you think about it. You're outside, the wind is blowing so your chance of picking up an infection outside is much lower than in a closed environment and that's important to emphasise for all of the players," she said on the Gaelic Players Association Players' Voice podcast.

"You can't play sport one metre or two apart but most of the time, and I am not an expert, but you might shoulder people but then you are apart again. And even when they looked at the rugby, which you would think is high-contact sport, they were only together in very close contact for less than 15 minutes.

"So look, it's a combination of (not coming) when you have symptoms, you are playing outdoors which has lower risk. You are moving around the field, you are a younger age group, you are fitter and most don't have the risk factors which result in the worst outcomes who unfortunately were either hospitalised or passed on."

Prof Horgan on . . .

Why Cúl Camps are permitted this summer ...

"You can't keep social distancing kids, it's just not feasible. The bad impact of Covid on that group is so, so low. So they're in a very low-risk group for a bad effect from Covid-19. I certainly think, based on the knowledge we have at this time, that the benefits of going back to sports for children without social distancing far outweigh the risks."

Are players at greater risk of contracting Covid-19 while training in winter?

"Not particularly. They'll be at risk like anybody else. What I would suggest and what I'm a big advocate of is the influenza vaccine. Particularly this coming season, it would be very advisable for people, and that obviously includes healthy young players, to get vaccinated."

How great is the risk in returning to sport?

"Put it this way, would I have any problem sending my kids back to sport? Absolutely not. There is no such thing as zero risk, but there is low risk and the low risk is in younger people who have no other major underlying health conditions. That's what we know as of now."

Irish Independent