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Nphet representatives appeared before the Oireachtas health committee today. Oireachtas
Health

Ireland's Covid position improving but global risk remains high, CMO tells Oireachtas Committee

Senior NPHET members fielded questions from TDs and senators at a Health Committee meeting today.

LAST UPDATE | 2 Feb 2022

IRELAND IS IN a positive position with Covid-19 but the global public health risk remains high, an Oireachtas Committee heard today. 

While Ireland’s current position has improved, more variants of concern are likely to emerge in the future, the Chief Medical Officer explained. 

The Joint Committee on Health convened this morning to meet with senior members of the National Public Health Emergency (NPHET).

It heard an update on Covid-19 and examined the easing of restrictions.

CMO Dr Tony Holohan, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn and Chair of the Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group Professor Philip Nolan fielded questions from TDs and senators on the current situation with the pandemic and Ireland’s response to it.

Dr Holohan told the committee that the incidence of the virus is still high but has fallen from its peak.

He has outlined that confirmed cases in hospitals and the average number of new cases in hospitals each day have also reduced, along with cases in ICU, daily admissions, and cases requiring mechanical ventilation. 

“The number of Covid-19 patients in receipt of advanced respiratory support in hospital settings outside of ICU has also reduced. The evidence in relation to Omicron as well as our experience of it, indicate that the burden of severe health outcomes appears reduced compared to previous waves of infection,” Holohan said.

“In addition, overall Covid-19 related mortality remains relatively stable. 

“We are in this much improved situation as a result of the population’s engagement with the vaccination programme, and the booster programme in particular, and high levels of adherence to public health measures, as well as the reduced virulence of Omicron.”

Restrictions

The committee heard that the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) contacted NPHET in recent days to “weigh up the evidence” on booster vaccine doses for people aged under 15.

Dr Glynn said a recommendation from NIAC is expected in the next two to three weeks and added that Ireland was not alone in not having started booster jabs for this age cohort.

Regarding mask-wearing, the deputy CMO reiterated NPHET’s commitment to review the matter later this month.

Glynn said NPHET were in the process of renewing evidence at the moment and will make an updated recommendation by 17 February.

He explained that, at that stage, every child will have had the opportunity to get vaccinated.

Holohan said NPHET recommended the change in restrictions given the “broadly positive outlook” of the virus.

The change in advice meant that the majority of Covid-19 rules were lifted on 22 January, including restrictions on hospitality and events.

“In advising that social and economic restrictions could be removed, the NPHET stressed that the pandemic is not over and that with a significant level of infection nationally, Covid-19 still poses a risk to public health,” Holohan said.

In this regard, there will be an ongoing need to retain some public health measures to reduce risk. Protective measures should remain in place in primary and secondary schools, masks should continue to be worn in all settings where currently regulated for, and we must continue to encourage everyone to complete their primary and booster programmes of vaccination.

“In this regard, I would urge anyone who has not yet received their booster dose or completed their primary course of vaccination to do so as soon as possible. The main purpose of vaccination has always been to prevent serious illness and death – Covid-19 vaccines continue to prove remarkably effective in this regard, especially for those who received their booster,” Holohan said.

The committee heard that masks will “continue to play a key role in reducing transmission” and that it is important that people wear masks correctly.

“It remains critical that if you have any symptoms of Covid-19 you self-isolate immediately. Those who are identified as a close contact of a confirmed case need to follow the appropriate public health measures.

“It is recognised that, the removal of restrictions, while very welcome, will cause anxiety for some. In particular, this may be the case for many people who are immunocompromised or more vulnerable to the severe effects of Covid-19.

“I wish to assure those who may be anxious that the risks associated with Covid-19 are greatly reduced through vaccination and that, with appropriate caution, they should go about their daily lives.”

He will tell the committee that although Ireland’s current position is positive, Omicron is unlikely to be the last variant of concern.

“Therefore, we must remain vigilant and ensure that our response is agile and flexible, with an ability to respond rapidly and appropriately to any emerging threat.”

With reporting from Céimin Burke

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