easing restrictions

Glynn says NPHET isn't predicting a fourth wave but is concerned about possible super-spreader events

NPHET and the Government are due to consider the further easing of restrictions again at the beginning of May.

LAST UPDATE | Apr 13th 2021, 3:19 PM

THE DEPUTY CHIEF Medical Officer has said public health officials are not predicting a fourth wave – or another lockdown – but it remains a possibility if restrictions are eased too quickly.

In his opening statement to the Oireachtas Health Committee, Dr Ronan Glynn said the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) will continue to recommend to government a “cautious approach” and the “gradual and phased” easing of measures, warning that moving too quickly could spark a fourth wave.

“While significant progress is being made in controlling the disease and in rolling out vaccines, we still have a high level of infection, we are dealing with a much more transmissible virus than last year, and the absolute number of people fully protected through vaccination remains low,” Dr Glynn said.

He said a further wave of infection can be substantially mitigated if levels of social contact across the population remain largely unchanged over the next six weeks.

“The priority must, for the coming weeks, remain on maintaining control over the disease, until vaccination can offer a widespread population level of protection.”

Later in the meeting Dr Glynn clarified that NPHET is not predicting a fourth wave, or another lockdown, adding “we don’t want to go backwards with these measures”.

He said when measures are eased in May and June, the focus needs to remain on outdoor activities. Where there are indoor events, he said they should be controlled and should avoid conditions that “facilitate super-spreader events”.

“Given the incidence that we have at the moment it would only require a small number of super-spreader events, and particularly a super-spreader event or events with a variant [of concern] to get us into trouble,” he said.

“So we’re in a very good position, we’re the third best in Europe by incidence at the moment and I’m hoping we can stay there. But there are uncertainties and we just need to continue to review and respond.”

Dr Glynn said there is “absolutely” a possibility of further easing of restrictions over the next six weeks, with a review due at the end of this month.

I think the government has already set out in its most recent update a number of areas that they would wish to look at and I think we would be looking at those areas in particular, such as, for example, click and collect, non-essential retail, further easing in terms of outdoor sports and training measures, measures like that.
And then, I suppose, outdoor businesses, and then moving on from there. I would hope that by the end of this month we will be able to set out a plan, or at least an indicative high-level approach that we can hopefully adhere to over the following six to eight weeks that will bring us through May, through June and into July.

AstraZeneca vaccine

Following the decision by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) yesterday to recommend that the AstraZeneca vaccine only be used in Ireland for those over the age of 60, Dr Glynn said there is concern about vaccine hesitancy and officials will be working to address people’s legitimate concerns.

On the impact of the change, Dr Glynn said the vaccine only accounts for 20% of the total stocks over the next eight weeks and there are still many people who have not been vaccinated yet and who are eligible for this particular vaccine.

He said he expects some people over the age of 60 will get their vaccine earlier than they otherwise would have.

‘Reasons to be hopeful’ 

Glynn will also said he is aware of the “understandable levels of fatigue” among the public but “we have more reasons to be hopeful now than at any other time in the pandemic”. 

He said that good progress is being made on the trajectory of the pandemic with the average number of close contacts holding “remarkably low and steady over” the last month.

“This is proving critical to preventing the spread of the virus. Hospital and ICU numbers are also moving in the right direction,” Glynn said.

Despite the low number of people fully vaccinated -  8.1% of Ireland’s adults – the positive impact is already being felt according to Glynn, with the percentage of Covid-19 cases in healthcare workers down from 10% of all cases notified at the start of December to less than 2% of cases in the latest 14-day report.

As of 10 April 2021, 1,058,394 doses of Covid-19 vaccine have been administered in Ireland. A total of 745,363 people have received their first dose and 313,031 people have received their second dose.

As the vaccine programme rolls on, Glynn said health officials are continually strengthening key elements of the response, crediting the HSE with developing capacity and capability across its testing and contact tracing service and a range of further enhancements, including the introduction of walk-in testing centres.

Walk-in test centres are set up in communities with comparatively high rates of Covid-19. Anyone within a 5km radius of the test centre can avail of a test if they have not previously tested positive for Covid-19.

The positivity rate of Covid-19 tests carried out at two Dublin walk-in test centres that first opened on Saturday is just under 6%.

The walk-in test centre at Mulhuddart has had a 5.97% positivity rate, while the test centre at Finglas has had a 5.84% positivity rate. This is high compared to the national rate of 2.7% in the last seven days. 

On mandatory hotel quarantine, Glynn will said that it is important that the country doesn’t risk the progress being made, “by exposing ourselves to variants that may have serious consequences for our vaccination programme”.

Advice on exempting vaccinated passengers from hotel quarantine is expected from the HSE’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre. Pressure is expected to be put on the body to deliver its report sooner rather than later, given the expectation that more cases are likely to come before the courts.

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