Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said that he believes social distancing may have weakened the public’s immunity, contributing to the increase in excess deaths seen across the globe.
The comments were made in the Dáil on Wednesday, following a question from Fianna Fáil TD Aindrias Moynihan.
“I raise with the Taoiseach what appears to be an increase in the number of people who have died this winter and last winter compared to previous years,” said Moynihan.
“In its analysis, the Irish Examiner indicated that there is an increase of up to 20%. From my conversations with people in the medical professions, undertakers, priests and others, I know that they concur that there is an increase in the number of people dying.
“Has the Taoiseach’s attention been drawn to this? Has analysis been conducted on what might be causing it or have any explanations been identified?”
Varadkar responded that his attention “had been drawn” to the phenomenon, and that he had read the Irish Examiner’s report on the matter.
“It seems there has been an increase in excess deaths this winter relative to other winters,” said the Taoiseach.
“It seems it is a phenomenon that is not unique to Ireland. It is an international one. I have asked the chief medical officer, CMO, for her opinion and advice on it.”
Varadkar then proceeded to posit some theories as to what could be causing the spike in deaths.
“The likelihood is that it is related to a number of factors such as influenza, respiratory syncytial virus, RSV, and Covid-19 all circulating in the community,” he said.
Notably, according to research by Seamus Coffey, an economics lecturer with University College Cork, Covid-19 is not the primary driver of excess mortality over the winter, and cannot be blamed for most of the surge.
Ireland has experienced a large spike in excess deaths which is not primarily due to the Covid-19 virus, new estimates released this week indicate.#gripthttps://t.co/jOeMYQShKc
— gript (@griptmedia) January 16, 2023
Varadkar continued to theorise that social distancing had meant that most people were exposed to less pathogens for several years, which may have weakened their natural immunity.
“People’s immunity is not what it was due to social distancing throughout the pandemic,” he said.
“People’s immunity is not as strong as it would have been if they had been out and about picking up viruses.”
Lastly, the Taoiseach floated the idea that “unmet health needs” due to closing down large parts of the health service may have played a role.
“There is also the issue of unmet health needs – as large parts of our health service were effectively closed down during the pandemic restrictions, people did not get the healthcare they would otherwise have received,” he said, adding: “That is all only opinions at the moment. We do not have any data to back it up and I have asked the CMO for her thoughts on it.”