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oireachtas commitee

'Vaccines alone cannot end this': TDs to hear how indoor ventilation is key to fighting spread of Covid-19

The Oireachtas Health Committee will discuss the issue today.

AN ENVIRONMENTAL EXPERT will tell TDs today that stopping the spread of Covid-19 indoors will be needed to end the pandemic alongside mass vaccination programmes.

Orla Hegarty, an architect and academic at UCD School of Architecture Planning & Environmental Policy, will tell the Oireachtas Health Committee that although the virus is biological, its spread is largely as a result of environmental factors.

She is set to call for a public health policy and re-opening plans that are based on the spread of Covid-19 indoors, as well as investigations into how it does so.

The committee is set to meet this afternoon to discuss the role of ventilation in achieving better health outcomes in tackling Covid-19.

In her opening statement to the committee, Hegarty will recommend that tackling air quality indoors is key to fighting the spread of the virus.

“Prevention is about managing people and managing air. Vaccines alone cannot end this; they need the support of a parallel prevention plan,” she will say.

“We now understand that risk of transmission is predominantly indoors and very specific to certain buildings and indoor air conditions.

“These conditions are preventable, and this knowledge is key to stopping infections and to opening buildings at low risk.”

Hegarty will tell the committee that the majority of Covid-19 transmission occurs as a result of people inhaling infected air, after virus particles “build up” and “fill a space” in indoor settings over a number of hours.

“Viral particles in the air behave like smoke and must be cleared out,” she will explain.

She will point out that certain places will present significantly higher risks of transmitting Covid-19, particularly where people are indoors and in close proximity for long periods of time such as restaurants, pubs, cinemas, hotels, and sports venues.

The committee will also hear how other countries have developed strategies to manage the problem of indoor transmission.

Hegarty will highlight that such strategies include reducing the occupancy of buildings, limiting certain activities, setting indoor air standards and improving ventilation and filtration in buildings.

“Eliminating unsafe conditions protects everyone, including children, people with compromised immunity and those not vaccinated,” her statement will say.

“It also mitigates the risk of variants, and of super-spread events. Vaccines alone cannot provide enough head-room for reopening. Prevention is needed.”

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