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'I lost my job for speaking out - but I have no regrets' - Dr Martin Feeley on his Coronavirus views

Dr Martin Feeley stands by his view that we must challenge Covid consensus, finds Larrisa Nolan

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VOCAL: Dr Martin Feeley says Covid testing is ‘a debacle’. Photo: Nick Bradshaw

VOCAL: Dr Martin Feeley says Covid testing is ‘a debacle’. Photo: Nick Bradshaw

VOCAL: Dr Martin Feeley says Covid testing is ‘a debacle’. Photo: Nick Bradshaw

Dr Martin Feeley changed the course of the national conversation when he said we'd lost perspective on the threat of the virus and needed to take a different approach at this stage of the pandemic. The brutal social and economic costs are outweighing the public health benefits, he believes.

He called for an end to "draconian" restrictions to allow the young to be free to: "Live a life, rather than just exist a life."

Dr Feeley's controversial view came at a heavy personal cost - he lost his role as clinical director of the Dublin Midlands Hospital Group, when the HSE said his position was untenable. Of that, he says he has "no regrets".

His much-talked-about appearance on RTÉ's Prime Time on Tuesday was powerful, as his stance had an intelligence and kindness at its core - a streak of what Martin Luther King called "tough-minded tender-heartedness".

One stark truth hit home like a missile. "I can tell you, the mood of the country is depressed," he told Miriam O'Callaghan. "Someone has to stand up for these people."

What exactly did he mean by that assessment of the country's psyche?

"The country is depressed," he explained in an interview with the Sunday Independent. "They're depressed - and what is even worse, individuals are scared, they are frightened. It's partly fear. People are living in abject fear. We are in a panic.

"If the Spanish Flu was sweeping across the country, it would be good to be frightened, it would mean people would mind themselves. But the Spanish Flu is not sweeping across the country. This is not an indiscriminate killer - we know now it is a condition that discriminates heavily against people we can identify."

Originally from Co Roscommon, the doctor says he has heard reports from the north-west of concern about the rate of suicide in the region. "Suicide is the ultimate metric of depression. The real picture of it won't emerge for another two years. This is the tip of the iceberg that doesn't accurately describe what is under the water.

"I am just saying: we should look at the cost - no-one is looking at the cost. Not just money, although that's a part of it. It's the lifestyle, the cost to quality of life, to youth.

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"We're saying to 19-year-olds: 'Stop your life, you can start living again when you're 21.' No one took my youth off me and I'd have been marching down the street if they'd tried."

He was incensed at calls to "bring in the Army" to deal with students gathering at Galway's Spanish Arch.

"I regard that as a peaceful protest by young people to the present restrictions on their lives.

"The reaction of elected politicians and media is very worrying. I think it was a peaceful protest and it is just the beginning. Unless someone does something, maybe we're looking at anarchy. Maybe we need anarchy, almost - I am that frustrated with it. For God's sake, let these people live their lives."

He believes we should look behind such authoritarian reactions: "They are manifestations of the absolute panic and fear in the community, which is evidence of the scaremongering by Nphet. How else can you describe official warnings to stay away from your nearest and dearest, as contact with them could prove lethal?"

Dr Feeley is calling for a fresh debate on strategy now we know Covid is not a universally lethal condition, as was first thought. He says he enjoyed the chance to discuss it with Professor Sam McConkey - who advocates a zero-Covid policy - on Prime Time. "He's a nice fella - it's great to talk to these people. You'll learn more from people you don't agree with than people you agree with.

"He absolutely believes this virus could be eradicated by Christmas, which is pie in the sky - although that's just my opinion. These people have never been challenged. They speak ex-cathedra. Nobody has ever turned around to them before and said: 'This is a load of rubbish.'"

One point he wants to raise is the use of case numbers to dictate the country's policy. "The fallacy of it - testing is a debacle, like the rest of it. There is a 1pc false positive rate. They do 15,000 tests and 150 are false positives - and you shut down the country on the basis of those extra false tests? The idea of national and county or city lockdowns is lunacy - we need to manage clusters locally."

Following Dr Feeley's breaking of the collective consensus, other senior public voices have aired similar views. Tánaiste Leo Varadkar is of the same mind about taking the focus off cases and on to deaths, hospitalisations and ICU admissions when it comes to deciding on policy, and said last week: "The object was to make sure our health service did not get overwhelmed, not to lock down the country and the economy until there is no Covid at all. That is not realistic."

Professor of Immunology Paul Moynagh warned against "ultra-caution", saying: "It's OK if there is no risk in terms of restrictions. But there are significant risks on the other side."

Why then, have we not heard from any other HSE doctors? "When you buy into something completely, it's much harder to come off track later and come out and say it. That's my excuse for people from the medical side not putting their head above the parapet, instead of saying: 'We need to think about this again.'

"The profession is left wanting - everyone seems to be afraid to question national policy, and a bunch of public health doctors seem to be running the country. I lost my job for speaking up but look at all the others who have lost work, salaries, maybe businesses and can't pay their mortgages and no one is talking about them.

"Me losing my job is nothing compared to that," said Dr Feeley.

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