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Covid committee: HSE boss to be questioned on clusters in meat plants and re-opening of schools

Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly and Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn will also appear today.

Image: Photocall Ireland

THE SPECIAL OIREACHTAS Committee on Covid-19 will reconvene today to examine the State’s response to the spike in cases of the virus.

In his opening statement to the Dáil Covid-19 Committee, HSE boss Paul Reid confirms that a new model for testing and tracing is being finalised by the Health Service Executive (HSE) which will set out a more permanent workforce and roll out process and technology changes.

He will tell the committee today that in the past 14 days there have been over 1,200 confirmed cases of Covid-19. 

Last week, the highest weekly number of tests since April was recorded, at 55,000. Similar numbers have been recorded this week, Reid will tell the committee.

The median end-to-end turnaround time over the past seven days is 2.2.

Last week, the median turnaround time from referral for a Covid-19 test to the completion of contact tracing was 2.83 days.

The committee will also be told that 4,949 contact tracing calls were made last week.

“These statistics give the Committee a sense of the numbers we are contending
with and the pace at which we are moving. Standing up these teams is complex
and must be understood in the context of our need to make the best use of
resources during both peaks and troughs of this virus,” Reid says in his opening statement.

Meat plant procedures

Addressing the issue of outbreaks at meat plants, Reid states that criteria for the assessment of meat plant outbreaks which will help inform decisions around the closure and reopening of factories has been developed.

It was reported this week that 15 employees have tested positive for Covid-19 at three meat plants around the country.

Reid will tell the committee that the HSE has also developed criteria with the Department of Education in relation to how to respond to outbreaks in schools, which he says “will be a key focus in the coming weeks and months”.

Committee members will be told that a “large number of outbreaks in private households and amongst family, sporting and social groups” have been identified.

To the 22 August, public health teams have responded to a total of 2,580 cluster outbreaks since the onset of the pandemic. Clusters are classed as more than one person being identified as positive for the virus in a setting.

The numbers in hospital remain low

The HSE boss will tell the committee that there are currently 22 patients admitted to hospital with the virus. Six are in ICU and three are currently ventilated.

“This lower rate of admission may be attributable to the lower age profile of patients that has characterised the resurgence in the disease over the past months. There is no
room for complacency however and we have plans in place to deal with a surge in hospitalisations,” says Reid. 

We must live with this virus in a very new way, and this requires a carefully balanced approach. The health services need a functioning economy and society. Shutting down the economy and society has implications for our health services.

Members of the committee will also hear from the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn and Chair of the NPHET’s Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, Professor Philip Nolan.

One of the committee’s members Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane said yesterday: “We need to get back to focusing on real issues.”

Committee Chairman Michael McNamara TD said getting an update on the HSE test and trace system is one of the areas the committee will be focusing on.

The (now lifted) localised lockdown of Laois and Offaly and the ongoing lockdown of Kildare, and the medical and scientific basis for it, is something, McNamara says, Dr Ronan Glynn and Professor Philip Nolan will be questioned about.

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“The committee welcomes the appearance of the Minister for Health before it. This will enable the Committee to explore the State’s overall strategic objectives, as well as the general response to the recent increase in detected cases and the plans in place for patients and our health service, as we move into autumn and winter, with seasonal flu expected to put additional pressure on the system.  

“The reopening of schools is vitally important and the Committee intends to meet on this matter next Wednesday and has extended an invitation to the Minister for Education.”

Clarity on travel

Given the controversy surrounding EU Commissioner Phil Hogan, and specifically on whether a negative test for Covid negates the need to restrict your movements for 14 days after travelling from a non-Green list country, the issue of travel is also set to feature. 

A government source said the Golfgate controversy has raised legitimate questions from the public around travel restrictions, stating that clarity will need to be provided.

The Department of Foreign Affairs continues to advise against non-essential travel overseas. This includes Great Britain but does not apply to Northern Ireland. It also includes all travel by cruise ship.

However, travel to a very limited set of locations – countries on the Green List – is exempted from this advice.

Belgium, where Hogan travelled from, is not on the list.

The committee will also discuss issues relating to older people, sporting and community events as well as the preparations regarding the re-opening of schools and school transport.

Garda powers in relation to Covid-19 enforcement, which will also be discussed at this week’s Cabinet meeting on Friday, will also be raised. 

The Dáil is to return earlier than expected after the Taoiseach agreed to recall the House before September. The Dáil will sit again next week.

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