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TD asks who is getting infected: 'Is it young people drinking cans on the canal or young people in Direct Provision?'

Richard Boyd Barrett raised the issue of concern being expressed about the number of Covid-19 cases among younger people.

Dr Henry said he would be concerned about people travelling into Ireland from other countries.
Dr Henry said he would be concerned about people travelling into Ireland from other countries.
Image: RollingNews.ie

A MORE DETAILED breakdown of who and where virus breakouts are occurring in the community should be provided, according to People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett. 

Speaking at the Dáil’s Covid-19 Committee this morning, Boyd Barrett raised the issue of concern being expressed about the number of Covid-19 cases in the community, particularly among younger people.

“Who’s actually getting infections now?” he asked. 

“When we hear young people are getting it – is it young people drinking cans on the canal, or is it young people in Direct Provision?”

“There is a big difference between those things and we need to know them, so we can make informed decisions,” said Boyd Barrett.

On Monday, health officials warned younger people against ignoring public health advice as figures reveal over one third of recent Covid-19 cases were diagnosed in people under 35.

These included 25 in the 15 to 24 age category and 35 in the 25 to 34 category.

Boyd Barrett said that as the restrictions are lifted it is important that the detail is tracked as to where outbreaks and spikes in the infection occur. He called for occupations and sectors of where the virus is detected to be revealed publicly so “we can understand where outbreaks are happening”.

Professor Paddy Mallon, an infectious diseases consultant, told the Covid-19 committee that it is a reasonable ask, but he said he gets the same information as the politicians do in relation to where infections are detected.

“It’s a bit of a problem that infectious control people don’t actually know who is getting it,” said Boyd Barrett and called for the probing of the figures for more information.

Health Service Executive (HSE) chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said such issues are discussed by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) and the Health Prevention Surveillance Centre (HPSC), stating that such information is given to the media in relation to the infection of healthcare workers, as well as when outbreaks occur in some sectors, such as meat plants.

Henry said the list is “not exhaustive” to the degree in which Boyd Barrett is seeking, but said the age of the those that are infected is revealed, as is where the virus was picked up.

“I would like more information,” said Boyd Barrett, who added that hairdressers have been in touch with him stating they are worried about reopening on Monday.

He said one way to track the disease is to see if outbreaks begin to occur among hairdressers, transport workers, airport staff, or children when they return to school.

It was revealed last week that new data is set to be released that will show the virus breakdown for counties and electoral divisions on a daily basis.

The HSPC is now working on compiling data on the number of days since a Covid-19 case was detected for every county and electoral division in the country.

Testing and tracing

Health Service Executive (HSE) chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry told the committee a new model of contact tracing and testing that will operate for the next 18 months and beyond has a target implementation date of late August.

“We have strengthened our capability to protect the nation’s response to Covid-19. Since May 18 we have the capacity to carry out 100,000 tests per week. We have reduced our turnaround times significantly with swabbing appointments the same day or next.”

Dr Henry said it will be “flexible for any potential surges” of coronavirus.

Prof Mallon told the committee there is “a very narrow window of opportunity” to learn the lessons from the first wave of coronavirus.

“That time must be used wisely to improve our testing and tracing infrastructure,” he said.

“Failure to learn, or delays in planning and resourcing for what is ahead, would not only be potentially negligent but would be a travesty to the memories of those who have died from Covid-19, some avoidably, during the first wave.”

Prof Mallon said that a highly effective programme of rapid testing, contact tracing and community actions must become a priority.

If the State’s testing and tracing system fails to work effectively then “we risk losing the gains provided to us through the sacrifices of the Irish people”.

“We are still in the midst of a national public health emergency and our citizens are at no less risk of severe illness and death if they contract Covid-19 infection now than they were back in March,” he said.

As we head into winter, Dr Henry and Prof Mallon said they both believe the flu vaccine should be mandatory for health workers.

“Wearing my health hat, I think they should be mandatory for healthcare workers but that would be a policy decision. Speaking with my medical hat on, I can’t see why any healthcare cohort would not get it unless there is a specific contraindication,” Dr Henry said.

Flu vaccine

Prof Mallon said: “I agree the flu vaccine should be made mandatory for healthcare workers. I would also fully support an expanded availability of flu vaccine as a public health measure.”

He added that Ireland “got away by the skin of our teeth”, stating that there needs to be a recognition moving forward that we can’t operate safely with current staffing levels in the health services.

On the issue of travel Prof Mallon said tourism increases the risk of spreading Covid-19 and that careful monitoring is needed.

He said: “I believe that the opening up that’s happening at the moment is being undertaken generally responsibly because we have good data on community transmission.

“I had a lot of concerns that we were relaxing restrictions too quickly but those fears have not played out in terms of increased community transmission. I will still be concerned – especially as we move into the next phase as the next phase we get much more movement of people.

“As tourism restarts, if there is no consideration from where the tourists are coming from, then we’re really giving ourselves a rod to break our back. You will have the dissemination of tourists from a number of different countries around the island and we will have to look at how we cope with that, how we monitor that.

“Irish people are on the ball with this and have been engaged with this from the beginning. People coming in from other countries may not be in the same mindset or of the same knowledge with reporting symptoms and how to get tested.”

Travel

He added: “What countries that Ireland is in the position of around the world have done with the resurgence of cases – the majority of the resurgence is occurring because new infections are being introduced into the country either through people travelling into the country or through the movement of goods.

“The importance of containing infections at borders become higher as levels of community transmission drop off. So from the policymaker perspective, if you want to maintain community transmission at a level that is minimum, it is important you have robust screening methods at the point of entry into the country.

“What they are is open for debate – you could screen everyone or judge your screening and restrictions on the epidemiological of the outbreak of the country the person is coming from. Someone coming from New Zealand compared to someone from Texas – the risk assessments would be very different.”

Dr Henry said he would be concerned about people travelling to Ireland from other countries.

Dr Henry told the committee: “It is far too soon for us to forget how transmissible this virus is. Events in Houston, Melbourne, Germany and certain US states remind us of the poor social measures and rapid easing of social restrictions – we see rapid community transmission that is very hard to bring under control.

“There would be concerns about people coming from areas of high impact – particularly in a Covid-19 environment. Unfortunately, we have to treat everyone as if they potentially have Covid-19 given the uncertainty that pertains right across Europe.”

Asked if there are sufficient measures in place to ensure people who come into the country self-isolate for 14 days, he said:

“It is up to individuals to comply with the advice that has been out since March. We haven’t a system where we track and trace every single individual who comes into our country.”

Cabinet yesterday agreed to ease the travel restrictions for some countries in which Ireland strikes an air bridge deal with. The list is being drawn up by officials, but TheJournal.ie previously reported that Ireland is considering air bridges with France, Portugal, Germany, and perhaps Greece, according to senior sources.

An “air bridge” is an agreement between two countries which have coronavirus under control or at the same level as one another. Such an agreement opens up travel between the two countries.

The EU has encouraged member states to seek out ‘air bridge’ agreements in order to allow for some travel for citizens during the summer months and beyond.

While non-essential travel is still not recommended by the government, however, Health Minister Simon Harris has said it is not illegal to travel abroad.

Senior sources state there is a “sensitivity issue” in how to handle any air bridge list that might exclude Britain, which it is expected to do. This is due to Britain’s infection figures, with the Taoiseach already stating that there is a real concern that the virus could be re-introduced to Ireland via Britain.

With reporting by Press Association 

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