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Colm Henry says advice is 'clear' that you must restrict movements for 14 days when arriving from non-Green List country

The issue of Phil Hogan was raised as HSE officials addressed an Oireachtas Committee this morning.

HSE chief clinical officer Colm Henry
HSE chief clinical officer Colm Henry
Image: Oireachtas TV

THE CHIEF CLINICAL Officer in the HSE has said the advice from the Health Protection and Surveillance Centre (HPSC) is “clear” that people travelling to Ireland from a non-Green List country must restrict movements for 14 days.

Colm Henry told the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 today that a person in this situation must self-isolate “irrespective” of whether they’ve been tested for Covid-19.

At this morning’s committee session, Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Mick Barry asked representatives from the HSE, including Henry and HSE CEO Paul Reid, if EU Commissioner Phil Hogan broke HSE guidelines for not observing 14-day quarantine advice. 

Both men spoke generally about the guidelines when asked by Barry. 

Yesterday, Hogan released a timeline of his recent visit to Ireland which included attendance at the controversial Oireachtas Golf Society event. 

Based in Brussels, Hogan travelled back to Ireland on 31 July. As Belgium is not on the Green List, the public health advice is that you should restrict your movements for 14 days. 

Hogan told his superior – European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen – that he “adhered to [Covid-19 requirements] at all times” and said he was not required to “self-isolate or quarantine” because he tested negative for Covid-19 after a hospital appointment. 

During an interview with RTÉ News yesterday, Hogan said he “self-isolated for the days up to the 5 of August. I was required to go to hospital. I tested negatively for Covid-19, so I was Covid free. My doctor said I was free to go.”

When asked about the HSE advice that people returning from abroad should continue to restrict movements even if they get a negative test in the first 14 days Hogan said: ”Well, I don’t accept that … I did everything possible to ensure that I was no risk to anybody.”

The senior HSE figures today reiterated this advice while at committee.

Henry said the “advice is clear in this regard” and that a person must restrict their movements for 14 days when returning from a non-Green List country “irrespective of a test being performed either abroad or here”. 

Committee

paul reid HSE CEO Paul Reid Source: Oireachtas

During this morning’s session, HSE representatives were pressed on a number of issues on the current situation with Covid-19, including testing and tracing, plans for the winter and the situation in a nursing home in Louth.

In his opening remarks, Reid stressed that the HSE is preparing for the busy winter months ahead.

“There are currently 22 patients admitted to hospital with COVID-19, 6 are in ICU and 3 are currently ventilated,” he said.

“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.

We are facing into a very difficult period ahead in our health services. In an ideal world the elimination of the virus would make our work somewhat more straightforward. However, this isn’t our reality. We must live with this virus in a very new way, and this requires a carefully balanced approach.

Reid admitted there would be “significant peaks” of the virus, but also “significant troughs” as we live through the virus. He said it was the job of the public health teams to respond to spikes of the cases where they are identified.

On testing and tracing, Reid was pressed by Sinn Féin’s health spokesperson David Cullinane on the previously expressed goal of reaching 100,000 tests a week.

Last week, 55,000 tests for Covid-19 were carried out. The highest recorded in a week came in April with 60,000.

Reid said the goal was to achieve a capacity of 100,000, but how many tests are actually done a week depends on other factors such as the current spread of the disease in the community, and decisions made on whether to conduct serial testing – such as all the staff in meat plants or direct provision.

He also said that serial testing – be they in meat plants or other contexts – comes with a significant cost. 

Reid told Social Democrat co-leader Róisín Shortall that serial testing gives the “public a lot of reassurance”. He added that “we need to continue that but it’s a very significant cost”.

At the onset of the crisis, he said that 99,750 healthcare workers were tested with a positivity rate of 0.13%.

He said serial testing was “not the major tool in terms of protecting the public”, and the other public health guidance were of vital importance. 

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Fine Gael TD Fergus O’Dowd pressed the HSE to provide clarity to the families of those who died at Dealgan House Nursing Home. 23 residents have died at this nursing home since the onset of the pandemic.

He said that the HSE had entered that nursing home, and the families deserved answers as to why. He urged Reid to meet with families to provide the answers they seek.

The HSE CEO said he’d arrange contacts to be made, through local management in the first instance. The HSE Chief Operations Officer Anne O’Connor said that nursing home had issues with staffing levels which prompted action to be taken by the RCSI Hospital group.

Reid separately said that the flu vaccine is a “need-to-have” for healthcare workers this winter. He said other jurisdictions had introduced legislation to make this mandatory but that such a process wouldn’t happen quickly enough here. 

About the author:

Sean Murray

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