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Taoiseach: Government 'will consider' NPHET's advice about people working from home

NPHET has asked the government to change its advice around a gradual return to workplaces.

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Updated Nov 12th 2021, 1:57 PM

THE NATIONAL PUBLIC Health Emergency Team (NPHET) has recommended the extension of the Covid vaccine passes to sectors outside the hospitality industry and that government should advice more home-working. 

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan has written to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly following a meeting of public health officials yesterday, amid concerns about the rising number of Covid-19 cases.

It is understood that the letter recommends the widened use of the vaccine certificate, although no specific sectors have been cited.

It is also expected that NPHET will advise that people should work from home if possible and socialise less. 

It comes as a further 3,680 Covid-19 cases were confirmed yesterday.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said that the government will consider NPHET’s recommendations on Monday and Tuesday.  

Speaking in Galway, Martin said that the main thrust of NPHET’s advice was around mask-wearing and “restricting socialisation”. 

“Numbers are increasing and that is a concern and therefore he main import of NPHET’s advice is on all of us to restrict socialisation, to monitor our behaviour, very strong on mask-wearing, particularly in outdoor sporting events that masks would now be worn, in large crowds and in congregated settings,” the Taoiseach said. 

For people who who have vulnerabilities or underlying conditions, that medical grade masks would be worn and that we generally overall try and reduce socialisation, then cumulatively that would have an impact.

Patricia King, general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), said the government should follow public health advice.

“Congress has always taken the view that we should support public health advice,” she said.

NPHET met yesterday to consider a range of measures to tackle the rising case numbers and Holohan hinted during a press conference on Wednesday that a recommendation for people to work from home could be on the table.

The government has since September adopted a phased return-to-work policy.

Earlier on Thursday, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said that a change in advice was not something the Government is “actively considering”.

Asked today about NPHET’s advice that more people should work from home, the Taoiseach said:

In respect of the return to work, which we had announced in September a phased return to work, CSO estimates that’s at about 50% right now, NPHET are advising that we would consider, that government would consider, changing that advice. Now government will consider that early next week, on Monday and Tuesday and we’ll give consideration to that advice.

Martin also referenced the expansion of the vaccine booster campaign and “extensive testing”, both antigen and PCR, as methods of dealing with a surge in cases. 

In response to the advice surrounding work from home, Sinn Féin’s employment spokesperson Louise O’Reilly TD said the government needed to “listen to the advice and prioritise safety for workers”. 

“While some employers and managers are continuing to exert caution and allow workers to work from home, others are seeking a full return to on-site working, and in the face of increasing Covid case numbers, such decisions are unnecessarily endangering workers,” she said. 

Take action

Earlier today, Director of Public Health at HSE Midwest Dr Mai Manix said that the country needs to take action that “would prevent us getting” to the stage where another lockdown is introduced.

Speaking on Morning Ireland today, Mannix said: “NPHET has issued the advice about working from home. Government will make that recommendation … so we would support that.

“The other thing I would say is it’s really important for people to wear masks if they are at work.”

Mannix added: “We have to focus on what we can actually achieve and there’s a couple of key messages of what people can do at the moment. Obviously people need to get vaccinated. If people still have queries or haven’t had their original two doses, just please contact your GP and deal with your questions.

“It’s very important that people go for their booster at this time, this is the best protection we have against hospitalisation and serious disease. You know, 65% of those in ICU are unvaccinated. So that’s a really straightforward action that all of us can take.”

Mannix echoed advice from Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan for people to reduce their social contacts.

“Go to the pub once a week, instead of twice a week. If we all collectively do a little it will have a big impact at a population level.”

Mannix noted that in the midwest, for instance, there has been “a large increase in the number” of Covid cases.

“Our infection rate has doubled over the past month, in between October 27th and November 10th, we’ve had over 3,500 cases.

“Obviously, like everyone else, we’re delighted to see society open but we’re at a particular juncture at this point in time where our cases in the midwest and across the country are rising really in all age groups.

“Except, thankfully, we’re seeing a reduction in the over 85-year-olds, probably due to the boosters,” she said.

Working from home

 

“That’s about one in every 200 people in the country, man, woman and child, has been identified as a new case in the last week,” Donnelly added.

“Let’s do the thing we can all do, which means we don’t need to shut things down, which is to reduce our social contacts and get this disease back under control.

“It doesn’t mean not having your Christmas party, what it means in the round, when you look at everything you’re doing, do the things that are most important to you, and the more discretionary ones, just for now, just cut them out.”

Covid certs

Meanwhile, Catherine Martin, Minister for Tourism and Culture, said the HSE’s hotline for Covid-19 may be tailored to allow people to report hospitality businesses that do not ask for Covid passes.

“Regarding the calls for a hotline, where a person has a concern that the requirements of the regulations are not being complied with, he or she may communicate this via the HSE live helpline on 1800 700700,” she told the Dáil.

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“It should be noted that anybody doing so would have to press number three, which is the other issues category.

“It might be useful to tailor the helpline to allow members of the public to report specific instances in a more targeted manner.

“This is something we will communicate to the Department of Health as the HSE is under the remit of that department.

“It will be a subject of discussion between officials in the Department of Health, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and my department.”

Martin said firms which break the rules could face a fine or the threat of closure.

“We are appealing to businesses that are not checking for certificates, because it is not fair to the other businesses and it is not fair for public health,” she added.

“For both reasons, to protect public health and to help the businesses that have been through such a tough time to keep their businesses open, everybody should abide by the rules.”

Contains reporting from PA, Christina Finn and Michelle Hennessy.

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Órla Ryan

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