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'Misleading' data on outdoors transmission does not reflect all cases associated with outside activities

Behaviours linked to outdoor activities, such as travelling to a match, are not included in figures that have been released, the HSE’s chief clinical officer has said

Image: Sasko Lazarov/

THE CHIEF CLINICAL Officer of the HSE has said that data showing the number of Covid-19 cases traced to outdoor settings are “misleading” because the figures do not include transmission from activities linked to outdoor gatherings.

Colm Henry, a member of the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), has said that transmission of Covid-19 outdoors is 19 to 20 times less likely than indoors.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio One’s News at One, Henry said that although transmission is lower outdoors than indoors, behaviours linked to outdoor activities, such as travelling to or from a match, can also cause the virus to spread.

Figures released to the Irish Times from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre recorded 262 cases as a result of outdoor transmission out of a total 232,164 confirmed cases up to 24 March.

Henry said that “we’ve always known that transmission is much lower in outdoor settings but this data is misleading in terms of the number because it pertains to outbreaks in outdoor settings”.

“It doesn’t really include all the other scenarios where people might acquire Covid when they congregate in any activity associated,” Henry said.

He said, as examples, that public health directors have located outbreaks from changing rooms, travel to or from matches, and dugouts.

“So it doesn’t include all the activities which are associated with outdoor activities, it’s just those that are recorded related purely to outbreaks alone.”

Where people follow social distancing and other public health measures, outdoor transmission is 19 to 20 times less likely than in an indoor setting, Henry said.

“We know transmission of the virus is for the large part associated with indoor congregated, poorly-ventilated settings. That doesn’t mean it’s exclusively so and it doesn’t account for all the associated activities that happen,” he said.

“With all outdoor settings with sporting activities, for example, not often the sport per se that leads to transmission – it’s the travel to and fro, socialising that’s associated with it.

“Similarly with schools, schools are relatively low risk for transmission, but the activities associated with schooling, sometimes have led to outbreaks and sometimes have led to amplification events, as the public health experts call it.

Henry said that “we’ve always known, and as we learn more about the transmission of this virus, that it is predominantly that of an indoor setting, but not exclusively”.

“That’s why there’s a need to observe all those other social restriction measures, as much as we can, even as we begin to ease these restrictions and facilitate greater amount of outdoor activities which is to all our benefits given the length of this Level Five restrictions,” he said.

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From 12 April, two households are allowed to meet outside for recreation, but not in a private garden.

Construction on homes and early-learning and childcare projects is allowed to return from the same day.

GAA and elite sports will see a limited resumption the following week.

Training for and playing of “National Governing Body sanctioned and organised adult intercounty National Gaelic Games Leagues not including under 20 or minor competitions” can return on 19 April, as can “high performing athletes as approved by Sport Ireland”.

Outdoor sport and attractions, such as pitches, tennis courts, zoos and heritage sites are to be allowed open on 26 April subject to public health conditions at the time, along with underage non-contact outdoor training in pods of 15 or fewer.

About the author:

Lauren Boland

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