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Dr Tony Holohan: 'We have effectively extinguished the virus from the community'

Community transmission is ‘very, very low’ says the chief medical officer.

Image: RollingNews.ie

“WE HAVE EFFECTIVELY” extinguished Covid-19 from the community, according to Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan.

Speaking in the Dáil today, where the first meeting of the Special Dáil Covid-19 Committee is being held, Holohan said:

“In broad terms, we have effectively extinguished it from the community in general, right across the country. Much of the caseload that is now being reported is seen in the context of particular settings.  

“We are still seeing some positive numbers in residential care facilities, though the number has reduced very substantially, and in some occupational settings.

“That is not to say that there are not some cases, but we have effectively extinguished it, which was the strategy from the very start. We have to start with suppressing this infection across the community before we have a chance of protecting nursing homes or other specific settings.

“We have it down to a very, very low level. We don’t have widespread community transmission.”

He added that there is “no certainty we can keep this virus suppressed”.

Vigilance

Holohan said the advice of NPHET [National Public Health Emergency Team] is that restrictions are eased on a phased basis, while maintaining close vigilance on the spread.

NPHET will continue to advise the government so as to ensure that the decisions made are informed by public health considerations, “while recognising that government will also need to take into account wider economic, social and other considerations, as part of the phased unwinding of restrictions”.

On testing, he said 97% of people are getting a test result by text message as that is the level that are testing negative.

Holohan said the majority of contact tracing is happening within 24 hours.

“Some positive results are still coming through from nursing homes, but they are low,” he said.

HSE CEO Paul Reid said ICU capacity has increased from 225 beds to an operable capacity of over 400.

The CMO confirmed today that the ICU number had fallen to 50. There were 70 patients in intensive care at the time that the initial lockdown measures were introduced.

Holohan said that the HSE is at the capacity of carrying out 100,000 tests a week.

He added: “Our assessment is that we believe it is needed. It’s not the only target that is important. It’s also the test turnaround.

“There is a fixation on 100,000 tests but it needs to be fluid.”

Asked how many members are currently on the NPHET team, Holohan said that it has grown with the state’s needs.

“We co-opted people along the way,” he added.

“The challenge of keeping up to date with the administrative tasks is significant.”

He committed to have all the minutes of NPHET meetings published.

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The Dáil committee also heard that a nurse who began work in a Dublin hospital a fortnight ago was not tested for coronavirus before starting the job and now has the virus.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett raised the case of an agency nurse and expressed concern at Ireland’s “much higher” rate of infection among health workers than other countries.

Holohan said new guidance on the matter had been issued today by the European Centre of Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), which he said would be considered closely by NPHET.

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