Nphet has ‘abandoned the science’ on Covid spread, claims professor

Anthony Staines, a professor of health systems at Dublin City University, criticised what he said was a lack of action on ventilation, air filtration and contact tracing in schools
Nphet has ‘abandoned the science’ on Covid spread, claims professor

A health expert has claimed the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) has “abandoned the science” regarding the spread of Covid-19.

Anthony Staines, a professor of health systems at Dublin City University, criticised what he said was a lack of action on ventilation, air filtration and contact tracing in schools.

Earlier this week, senior Nphet officials said Hepa air filters have no role in preventing infections in classrooms, and restated their belief that current high rates of infection among schoolchildren are the result of wider trends in the community rather than in-class transmission.

A new milestone was reached this weekend, with 100,000 children under the age of 15 infected with the virus to date. Half of these cases were reported in the past 12 weeks.

Prof Staines said a failure to provide Hepa air filters in classrooms and a lack of contact tracing have contributed to the current infection rate.

“What they have in common is they’ve all been rejected in various ways by Nphet,” he told Newstalk radio.

“We’ve seen that antigen testing has been brought in over the objections of Nphet, who have described it as ‘snake oil,’ and have seemed concerned that it might be abused in some way, and this general approach to disease control is getting us to where we are now.”

Prof Staines said that teachers are currently being tasked with a contact tracing role in schools that is more suited to public health officials.

“There’s no mention at all, for example, of reintroducing contact tracing in schools. At the moment, that’s being done by headteachers which seems a little unfair, it’s more obviously a role for public health," he said.

“But public health is neither allowed nor resourced to carry out contact tracing on the scale that’s required. All of this really suggests the Government’s view is narrow, and it suggests the Government’s view precisely reflects the public statements that Nphet have made.”

Nphet statements

At a Nphet briefing on Wednesday, deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said the major factor driving the rise in cases among younger schoolchildren remains socialisation outside the school setting.

This was not surprising given this age group is not vaccinated in a society that is almost entirely open, he said.

He said a whole range of mitigation measures should be in place in education but that didn’t mean “windows have to be kept open all the time”.

Prof Philip Nolan also said the high incidence in 5 to 12-year-olds was the result of earlier high incidence in 18 to 30-year-olds and other adults. “We first of all see it in the older community and then we see it in children.”

Hepa filters have an application in small spaces with a known source of infection, such as hospitals, he said. They must be placed near the source, he added.

“They are not useful in the far corner of a room with 20 to 30 people, where you don’t know the source of infection. You’re better off paying attention to mitigating measures that prevent close-range transmission,” he said.

Prof Nolan said a typical classroom is “quite big”, at least 150 cubic metres, or up to six times the size of a normal room.

It comes as a further 5,622 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in the State on Saturday. The number of Covid patients in hospital fell to 487, the lowest level in almost four weeks.

The Government on Friday announced its most wide-ranging introduction of new restrictions this year after “stark” warnings from Nphet to take immediate action in the face of potential threat from the Omicron variant.

From Tuesday until at least January 9th, indoor hospitality will be limited to parties of up to six adults per table, while nightclubs will be closed and indoor events limited to half a venue’s capacity.

Advice has been issued that households should not host more than three other households in their home, while the use of the vaccine pass is to be extended to gyms and hotel bars and restaurants.

More in this section

Sponsored Content

Add Echolive.ie to your home screen - easy access to Cork news, views, sport and more