Return of restrictions may be needed if high Covid levels persist, says former HSE boss

Tony O'Brien said the Government must assess whether the current level of infections is sustainable, given its impact on the health service.
Return of restrictions may be needed if high Covid levels persist, says former HSE boss

Vivienne Clarke

Updated: 9am

A return of Covid-19 restrictions may be necessary if the current high level of infections persists, a former director-general of the HSE has said.

Speaking to Newstalk, Tony O'Brien said the Government and public health experts need to assess the possible reasons behind the recent surge in case numbers, after the country recorded the highest daily increase in cases since January on Tuesday.

Following the recent easing of restrictions, which saw the return of nightclubs and eased crowd limits for live events, Mr O'Brien said action must be taken quickly before infections spiral out of control.

"This large spike is coming just a week and a half after the return of nightclubs - I think that needs to be examined," Mr O'Brien said.

"If there's evidence available to Government that tells them what type of activities are the underlining cause of this level of infections, then I think they need to look at that very quickly and take a decision quickly before the situation becomes completely untenable.

"The Government will have to take a very hard look at whether it can sustain the current situation, given the pressures that will exist on the health service," he added.

Although members of the Government and public health experts alike have indicated there are currently no plans to reintroduce restrictions, Mr O'Brien suggested that decision-makers should be flexible on the matter.

"Clearly it is a difficult situation for the Government - there certainly cannot be any relaxation of current restrictions, but I think if this continues they will have to consider reversing some of the recent relaxations."

Antigen testing

Earlier, immunology expert Professor Christine Loscher called for antigen testing kits to be made freely available and for testing to be carried out twice weekly in households, adding that rapid testing should become part of life for everyone as a tool in the fight against Covid-19. she told Newstalk Breakfast.

Prof Loscher told Newstalk Breakfast that the roll-out of booster vaccines should also be sped up, while the public need to “recheck” their behaviour.

Other countries in Europe were also experiencing a growth in Covid cases because of behaviour changes due to winter weather, but Prof Loscher said the key thing to do would be to use booster vaccines: “We’ve been talking about them since July. Look at the numbers in hospital.”

People need to be reminded that the vaccine is about preventing illness and not about stopping people catching the virus, she said, adding that Ireland has been “backward” about antigen testing. She said such tests need to be made freely available, stating it is another tool that could play a vital role in the fight against Covid, especially when it came to asymptomatic people.

“It is time to stop and reflect. We still need to do all the things we were doing before” Prof Loscher said.

Children

Meanwhile, on RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland, Dr Nuala O’Connor of the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) said general practices were seeing a huge rise in the number of children wearing their school uniforms presenting with Covid-like symptoms when they should have been isolating at home.

The key message was that if anyone has symptoms they should not go to school or work, she said, and this was necessary to stop the spread of all winter viruses.

“We all have a role to play. I think there’s fatigue out there, people have to get on with their lives, but we need to dial it back and be a little more cautious,” Dr O'Connor added.

People need to be careful about who they were mixing with and to avoid poorly ventilated indoor spaces, she cautioned, adding that if a person had symptoms and stayed home then they would break the chain of infection.

Dr O’Connor said she did not think contact tracing was necessary for school children as the virus was spreading in social situations, but the message remained that a child should not go to school if they are displaying symptoms.

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