The reopening of indoor hospitality amid the spread of Delta variant and with much of the population unvaccinated risks superspreader events, according to the HSE’s director of public health for the South East.
Dr Carmel Mullaney expressed concern about the spread of Covid-19 if diners were to move to the indoors of cafes, restaurants and pubs from July 5th.
“There is an inherent risk in people dining and drinking in close quarters. When we move indoors, that risk is even higher,” she told RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show.
The risk was even higher when there was alcohol involved, people would push tables together, they intermingled and there was a risk of a superspreader event, Dr Mullaney added.
“As a public health doctor, we'd be apprehensive about indoor hospitality,” she said.
Dr Mullaney said that the rates of Covid cases were increasing every day and they were seeing outbreaks where there was a possibility of the Delta variant being involved.
She explained pop-up Covid testing centres had been established in the Waterford area due to increased levels of the disease.
Half of the population was still not vaccinated, she said, and there was a concern that a large proportion of those aged in their sixties were still not fully vaccinated. Dr Mullaney said she would rather see more people vaccinated before reopening.
On the same programme, infectious disease expert Professor Sam McConkey said he would like to see a cautious and slow reopening of the hospitality sector on July 5th.
The question was how much of a risk people were willing to accept, Prof McConkey said.
Going on the modelling figures, there could be 200,000 to 400,000 Delta cases with a mortality rate of one per thousand, which would mean 200 to 400 deaths. What was the benchmark for acceptable risk, he asked.
There were 200 to 400 deaths of cyclists on the road every year yet this was accepted, he said.
There was also the issue of Covid control with Northern Ireland, that was a “big political challenge” he said. “They can’t agree with each other, never mind with us.”
Prof McConkey said that because of the level of vaccination to date, the situation was already “ten fold better” than during the third wave in January.
If there was a Delta surge it would not be anything like the third wave, he said. The basic health service would not be as impacted. The younger demographic would not be as much at risk, so hospitalisations would be very low.
Prof McConkey said he was more concerned about international travel as there was a risk in the future of a variant immune to vaccination that could come into the country and that would be "very bad."
It comes as an announcement regarding the reopening of indoor dining, which had been due to take place on July 5th, is expected to be made on Tuesday, according to Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris.