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'If you have symptoms presume it's Covid': NPHET seeks return to the basics as cases rise

Ministers are currently considering whether to delay lifting restrictions on 22 October.

Image: Leah Farrell

Updated Oct 14th 2021, 12:15 PM

HEALTH OFFICIALS ARE engaging in a twin-track drive to increase Covid-19 vaccination and to urge people not to leave their home if they have symptoms. 

The push comes amid a rise in Covid-19 case rates with NPHET’s head of modelling Professor Philip Nolan saying that high vaccination rates are preventing a surge of infections. 

Nolan told RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne programme that the balance between relying on vaccination rates and people’s behaviour to keep Covid-19 rates under control has changed, and that a shift in collective behaviour is required. 

Yesterday, 2,066 new cases of Covid-19 in Ireland were confirmed – with 408 patients in hospital testing positive for Covid-19, of which 69 were in ICU.

Over the past week, the average number of cases per day has increased from 1,100 to 1,600. 

Nolan said that the county is  “unlikely to see a major surge” like in previous points during the pandemic, but that this is solely down to vaccination rates. He encouraged those who have not yet availed of a vaccine to do so. 

Currently, fewer than 10% of the adult population is unvaccinated, but those who have not been vaccinated make up about half of those hospitalised with Covid-19 and two- thirds of those in ICU.

“Fundamentally we’re on a knife edge here, balanced between the protection of vaccination, which is offering this huge protection,” he said. 

For people who are not yet vaccinated or haven’t completed their vaccination regimen, we as a society need to do everything we can to encourage and support those people to take up the vaccine, for whatever reason they’ve avoided to date, see what can we do to encourage them.

Nolan added that there is an important message too for people who are vaccinated and that is to “continue to observe the basic measures” around mask-wearing and not socialising when they have symptoms. 

He said that someone leaving their home with cold or flu-like symptoms “has to become socially unacceptable in the way that drink driving has become socially unacceptable”. 

If you have symptoms presume it’s Covid or presume it’s any respiratory virus and you do not want to transmit Covid or any respiratory virus right now in society. We have a real concern that those measures, and in particular that measure, self-isolated if symptomatic and seek medical advice, that they may be slipping and that’s kind of pushed us to the wrong side of the knife edge.

Restrictions

Nolan’s comments have come after a meeting of senior officials yesterday heard that Ireland’s Covid-19 situation has taken an unexpected turn, throwing into doubt the further easing of remaining restrictions next week.

On 22 October all remaining Covid-19 restrictions are scheduled to be lifted, including requirements for social distancing, indoor mask-wearing and limits on numbers at events. The changes essentially herald the return of businesses like nightclubs

However, the government is now seeking detailed data from health officials on the breakdown and make up of the increasing Covid-19 case numbers and hospitalisations ahead of next week’s Cabinet meeting on the final easing of restrictions.

While there are concerns at senior level about the increase in Covid numbers, government sources state they are “optimistic” that things can go to plan on Friday week.

Health officials have warned against complacency, but sources said the probing of data is needed before next week’s meeting, with one source stating that it is important to understand the causes behind the increases.

They added that Cabinet members are all to aware that there is no appetite from the public to delay the final easing of restrictions, which is why a deep dive into the numbers and is what is needed.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn said last night that although there has been a good uptake of Covid-19 vaccines in recent months, those who had not been vaccinated were having a “disproportionate” impact on the health service.

Unfortunately, there are still just under 300,000 adults who have not come forward for vaccination and a further 70,000 people have received just one dose of a two-dose schedule.

Following those remarks, it is understood ministers are now seeking additional breakdowns of the number of vaccinated people that test positive for the virus and feature in the daily case number notifications.

People who are fully vaccinated can still transmit and contract Covid-19, though their symptoms are much milder. Vaccines help prevent serious illness and death. 

Over 90% of over 16s in Ireland are fully vaccinated.

Health officials are also being asked for the daily hospital figures of people that are Covid-positive patients because of the viral infection, against patients who are in hospital for an injury or other illness, but who happen to test positive for Covid-19.

HSE warning

The HSE today warned that it is experiencing the strain of increased Covid-19 hospitalisations heading into the winter period. 

Chief Operations Officer of the HSE Anne O’Connor told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that in recent weeks more people are being admitted to hospital for non-Covid reasons with increased attendance at emergency departments.

With more than 400 people in hospital with Covid-19, however, O’Connor said a number of hospitals including in Galway, Limerick and Cork are experiencing the strain on non-Covid services. 

“Across our whole system last night we had less than 100 beds available and that will impact on a day-by-day basis in any surge whether it’s to do with Covid or flu season, sometimes we have to scale back on activity,” she said.

O’Connor also noted that about two-thirds of people currently in ICU are unvaccinated against Covid-19 and that about 50% of admissions to hospital are among this cohort. 

‘Wrong turn’

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said yesterday that he “can’t guarantee” that the remaining Covid-19 restrictions will be lifted next week following a “wrong turn” in the trajectory of the virus. 

Martin told reporters that the government must await “further presentations from”  NPHET and that no decision has been made as yet. 

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Martin added to this at the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party last night, saying there has been a “sudden increase of cases” which is leading the government to reconsider next week’s easing of restrictions. 

“There are some issues of concern with Covid. There has been a sudden increase of cases and mortality has been rising compared to the summer,” he said.

We will weigh everything up as we progress towards the 22nd.

Varadkar also told his party meeting last night that the metrics are worrying and going in the wrong direction.

He outlined that more than 300,000 adults have not taken the vaccine. He said it is a personal choice for everyone but that those choices have effects on other people.

He said government will discuss the rising Covid numbers and make a decision on the October 22nd reopening date at next Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting.

The Taoiseach also confirmed last night that the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) is expected to make the recommendation on booster vaccines over the coming days. 

Once made, the government “will ensure that the vaccines will be rolled out without delay,” he said. 

However, there are concerns in government circles that NIAC is “too slow” in making its recommendation, with questions being asked as to why an extensive booster programme is not already getting underway.

With reporting by Cónal Thomas and Rónán Duffy

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