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'Marginal' change in people's behaviour will bring Covid-19 'under control', Nolan says

“The fundamental message here is we need to act,” Professor Philip Nolan said.

Image: Sasko Lazarov via RollingNews.ie

IT WILL TAKE just a marginal change in people’s behaviour to bring the Covid-19 situation back “under control”, Professor Philip Nolan has said. 

The Chair of NPHET’s Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group said the possibility in an “optimistic scenario” of 200,000 cases of the virus in December is “not inevitable”. 

Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Nolan said those models are based on what might happen if nothing changes over the coming weeks in terms of people’s level of social contact and the care taken to prevent transmission. 

He said if nothing else changes the country is on “a trajectory towards very large case numbers and very large numbers of people in hospital coinciding with Christmas”. 

Nolan said a risk that 450 people might need intensive care by Christmas is “possible”, but added that “we’re trying now to do everything we can to avert that scenario”.

“Marginal changes in behaviour in a positive direction can bring the virus under control, in a negative direction can allow us to spiral very rapidly out of control,” he said. 

“The fundamental message here is we need to act,” Nolan said. 

“We need to isolate if we develop symptoms, we need to restrict our movements and take antigen tests if we’re a [close] contact. We need to reduce our contacts, perhaps only by a third, or improve our risk mitigation during those contacts by washing our hands, wearing our masks properal, keeping some distance, avoid unventilated spaces,” he said.

With the government bringing in more restrictions this week in a bid to change peoples’ behaviours, ISME has written to the Taoiseach to express its grave concern at the lack of direction in the management of Covid-19 case numbers, and the sudden announcement of new measures.

“While appreciating how serious the public health situation is, we must also register how serious the situation is for thousands of businesses which had a reasonable expectation of near-normal trading in Christmas 2021, after a disastrous Christmas last year,” said the group.

“Rather than forcing the country into a series of yo-yo restrictions ISME is calling on Government – as a matter of urgency – to invest in sufficient surge capacity in our critical care beds to manage a significant uptick in case numbers.

ISME also wants the government wants to aggressively roll out a booster campaign, as well as acknowledge the ”fact that a significant proportion of our critical care capacity is occupied by the unvaccinated”.

The group also wants the government to establish a robust and affordable widespread antigen-testing regime.

Neil McDonnell, Chief Executive ISME said: “We are suffering from an absence of demonstrable command, control and communications by Government in the management of this pandemic.

“It is important for Government to exercise grip over the situation, especially when they must convey bad news to the population. There is a real inconsistency in messaging when stadiums are full but offices are empty. This appears to make no sense, and will sap the confidence of businesses once more. The Government and it health advisers need to act quickly.”

Health officials last night confirmed a further 3,633 cases of Covid-19 in Ireland.

A further 43 deaths related to the virus have also been notified in the past week, bringing to 5,609 the number of people who have died since the beginning of the pandemic. 

Speaking earlier yesterday, Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said that health officials are continuing to see “significant surges of the infection” and asked people to “do more in terms of our collective adherence to the messages”.  

Speaking to CNN last night, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the government will reassess the Covid-19 situation in about two weeks time. 

“I’ve always said that I felt we need to get through another winter before we can say this pandemic is safely behind us,” Varadkar said. 

The Tánaiste said it may become the case that Covid-19 becomes a problem that will need to be dealt with every winter. 

“We need to make sure we prepare for that through vaccination and also other measures around test, trace and isolate, in particular,” he said. 

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said earlier yesterday “last thing” the government wants is tough restrictions in the run up to Christmas.

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Coveney said the government will assess the impact of the measures in the coming weeks to see “whether we’ve done enough” but that further restrictions can’t be ruled out. 

Meanwhile, there was criticism of Health Minister Stephen Donnelly’s approach to communications around the Covid crisis at last night’s Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting, with the Fianna Fáil minister coming under fire for his media performances in recent weeks.

Donnelly said just last week that a full return to a work from home policy was not being considered by government. However on Tuesday, the Taoiseach announced that the policy was being brought back – with the advice officially taking effect from tomorrow.

With reporting by Christina Finn

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