Reopening of schools under review but expected to go ahead, says CMO

Dr Tony Holohan said advice on antigen and PCR testing may change if Covid infections continue to surge.
Reopening of schools under review but expected to go ahead, says CMO

Vivienne Clarke

The chief medical officer, Dr Tony Holohan has said the reopening of schools next week will remain under review, however, the plan at present is that they will return as planned.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland, Dr Holohan also admitted that if the Omicron surge continues then “it may well be the case” that the current advice on antigen testing may need to change.

Dr Holohan said case numbers for school age groups had been falling in December, adding that he was not aware of any other country which had moved to close schools.

"We're doing everything we can to protect the most important public services that we have," he said.

Asked if the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly agreed on the changes recommended by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), Dr Holohan said there was no difference in the official position. “This is the view that Stephen Donnelly also has,” the CMO said regarding the need for people to take “significant personal” precautions.

Dr Holohan added that he believes the constraints on the PCR testing system meant actual case figures were higher than the daily numbers being confirmed by the department and could have been in excess of 30,000 cases on Thursday.

The number of people being hospitalised every day was now exceeding 100 per day, he said, up from 50-60 per day earlier in December. Although the personal impact of Omicron was likely to be less than Delta, the higher level of transmission would mean more pressure on the hospital system.

Dr Holohan said, however, that this Christmas was not the same as last year due to the rollout of Covid vaccines, stating that if people had not been vaccinated then the numbers being hospitalised and dying would be far higher.

“The vaccines work, the boosters work,” he said, urging anyone who was not yet been vaccinated or boosted to do so.

Dr Holohan said “further measures” might have to be taken if PCR testing capacity remained under strain.

The CMO acknowledged that while the “official” Government advice at present was that up to four family groups could gather in one house, people should not do that. Such gatherings are not safe he said, given the current level of transmission, adding that it is important for people to hear that message.

The basic measures remained to meet outdoors, cut down social contacts, avoid crowds, wear masks and improve ventilation, he reiterated.

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