Covid: Full return to working from home not under consideration, Minister says

Officials say the risk of meeting an infectious person is higher than ever before as one in 25 of the population was infected over the past fortnight
Covid: Full return to working from home not under consideration, Minister says

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said that the Government is not considering a full time return to working from home.

The Minister's comments come amid reports that halting the phased return to the workplace and returning to a full work-from-home policy is under consideration to control rapidly rising Covid-19 cases.

Officials from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) meet on Thursday to decide if further measures are needed to tackle high infection rates, according to The Irish Times.

Chief medical officer Tony Holohan has said a recommendation that employees generally work from home is “one of the considerations” that will be discussed at the meeting before a recommendation is made to Government.

However, Minister Donnelly on Thursday told Newstalk Breakfast that the Government is not currently "looking at" a return to a full work-from-home policy.

Regulations

The Government has not received any advice from public health officials on the issue, he said, nor is it considering extending the requirement of Covid certs to other areas such as gyms and hairdressers.

“In terms of regulation or Government policy that is not something we are looking at,” he said.

The Minister said that the Government did not want to shut down anything in a bid to reduce levels of Covid-19, but he warned that in order to get the disease back under control, people must reduce their social contacts.

The public should “cut back on the less important things” he urged, and choose what was important to them.

The message from Nphet had been that people should choose what things they were going to do, he said. When asked if school Christmas events should go ahead, the Minister said that reducing social contacts was not as simple as picking one individual thing and saying “this can or cannot happen”.

Reimposing restrictions

Speaking at Nphet’s weekly briefing on Wednesday, Dr Holohan said the Department of Health had “taken a leadership step” by reinstating a working-from-home rule for its employees. Up to recently, they could go to the office once a week.

Current Government policy proposes a “phased and staggered” return to the workplace, but Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has suggested a full return will not happen until next spring.

Health officials are not considering reimposing restrictions “at this point in time” despite the worsening situation surrounding the virus, said Dr Holohan.

However, they are considering additional measures to the current approach, which is focused on encouraging people to reduce social contacts, accelerating the rollout of booster vaccines and ensuring compliance by the hospitality sector with Covid pass rules.

Dr Holohan said “not enough” people are heeding Nphet’s message on socialising, while surveys show one-third of restaurants, cafes and pubs are not checking passes.

While earlier models suggest cases should peak towards the end of November, officials said there was “no guarantee” this would happen given current trends.

Infections are rising in all counties and in all age groups, but especially among 19- to 24-year-olds. A drop in incidence among over-85s is being attributed to the administration of booster vaccines to this group.

With one in 25 of the population infected over the past fortnight – and almost 3,000 more cases reported yesterday – officials said the risk of meeting an infectious person now is higher than at any point in the pandemic.

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