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CMO Dr Tony Holohan says the 'responsible thing' is not to plan Christmas parties

Holohan wared of at least 200,000 cases in December but said this can be be prevented.

Arnott's window in Dublin.
Arnott's window in Dublin.
Image: Rollingnews.ie

Updated Nov 17th 2021, 6:10 PM

CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER Dr. Tony Holohan has said the “responsible thing” for public health was not to plan “major socialisation events” like Christmas parties. 

Holohan said this evening that the spread of Covid-19 in this country and the pressure on healthcare services meant that normal levels of Christmas socialising was not advisable.  

“We really do not have the capacity as a country to have significant Christmas-type levels of socialisation in the run into Christmas if we’re if we’re to turn this around,” Holohan told The Hard Shoulder on Newstalk. 

I think a very responsible thing for people who are in a position, whether they’re organising Christmas parties or where they’re responsible for the health and well-being and welfare of their staff and their customers, a responsible thing to do would be to conclude that now is not is not an ideal time to be planning major socialisation events that don’t need to happen.

Asked about weddings that may be planned in the forthcoming weeks, Holohan said that weddings are a “different situation” as they “an important milestone” and are planned long in advance 

His comments come as a senior minister said earlier that “last thing” the government wants is tough restrictions in the run up to Christmas.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said the government will assess the impact of the measures in the coming weeks to see “whether we’ve done enough” but that further restrictions can’t be ruled out. 

The Deputy CMO Dr Ronan Glynn said this evening that up to 200,000 people could be infected in December but that it is not “inevitable”.

Glynn told Six One on RTÉ there is no “silver bullet” to prevent the surge in cases: “It’s really important, I think, to move the commentary away from what has been part of the commentary . . . that there’s a silver bullet, that antigen testing is going to sort this out, that boosters vaccines are going to sort this out, that more PCR testing is going to sort this out.”

Instead, he said method such as mask wearing, cutting down social contacts and avoiding crowded locations will help prevent the spread of infection. 

Earlier today, Holohan warned that the new measures introduced by government would not be sufficient if people who were symptomatic ignored the advice to self-isolate and avail of a PCR test. 

Holohan said that NPHET modelling showed that there could be a minimum of 200,000 cases of Covid-19 across the month of December but that this was “not inevitable” if people followed public health advice. 

Holohan said that he was not predicting the number of cases as they were preventable but that it could be “double” that 200,000 figure.  

Over the past two weeks, over 55,000 cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed in this country, leading to an increase in people hospitalised with the virus. 

“We think that about 2%, in other words 20 out of every 1,000, of those cases might occur will end up in hospital. All cases will be advised to restrict to self-isolate, and their contacts will be advised to restrict their movements,” Holohan told RTÉ’s News at One

That’s a lot of people in hospital potentially 4000 or more. It’s a lot of people being asked to self isolate and restrict movements, none of those people are infected yet. 

“A time of year when none of us wants to be faced with going into hospital or having a loved one going into hospital. None of us wants to be faced with being advised to restrict our movements or to self isolate.”

He added: “If you’re going to have an infection in December that infection hasn’t been picked up yet, so a minimum of 200,000 cases occurring in December, all of which are preventable.”

Public health measures

A number of measures were announced yesterday as part of efforts to stem Covid cases in hospital, among them a new midnight end for pubs and nightclubs and the reimposition of advice that people should work from home unless it’s “absolutely necessary”. 

In a further move which attempts to limit the spread of the virus, anyone living in a household of someone who is a confirmed case of Covid-19 is to be asked to restrict their movements for five days. 

Speaking last night after the measures were announced, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that NPHET had advised on the measures but that it could not be guaranteed that they would be sufficient to bring cases to a manageable level. 

Asked today was the government therefore delaying the inevitability that further restrictions would be required, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said he doesn’t believe this to be the case. 

“No, I hope not but of course we will have to wait and see how the virus behaves and the numbers in ICU and the numbers in hospital, we are predicting now that somewhere between 1,000 to 2,000 people could be in hospital with Covid and the numbers in ICU could could go above 200. That puts huge pressure on our system,” he said. 

Speaking about the new restrictions, he said: 

This is about trying to avoid a more severe restrictions on people. It’s about effectively recalibrating our response and recognising that large numbers of people in nightclubs and late night bars is a risk factor that we think it’s responsible to remove for now. 

Coveney said that he’s aware that the effective curfew on nightclubs will have consequences on the sector but that “it’s not the job of government not to make popular decisions”.

“I think it’s the right decision, we can’t rule out further restriction and we will simply have to follow the behavior of this virus in the weeks ahead to see whether we’ve done enough to protect society through winter, or whether we need to do more,” he added.

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“But certainly the last thing the government wants is another severe series of restrictions in the build up to Christmas.”

You can’t provide guarantees on anything when it comes to Covid, that’s surely one thing we’ve learned, we’ve all learned over the last 18 months or so. And we have to respond to the evidence as it’s presented.

The minister said that in the coming weeks people will see “an acceleration of boosters” and that he has spoken to his counterpart in Israel who outlined the effectiveness of boosters in preventing hospitalisations.

In his interview this afternoon, Holohan outlined what people who are syptmoatic and close contacts of a confirmed case should do. 

“People who are cases and who are symptomatic, they simply must self-isolate and they get a PCR test, not an antigen test a PCR test. So if you have symptoms, stay at home, arrange for a PCR test, and if those people can comply with the advice to self isolation, and the people who are their close to contacts particularly those who live with them, can restrict their movements and be antigen tested as they restrict those movements, we think that is the behaviour that is most important.”

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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