Covid-19: Small gatherings and behaviour at funerals risking progress, warns Holohan

Warning over Christmas travel ‘disaster’ as one more death and 378 new cases reported

 Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan: “We are seeing a number of things which concern us. There are examples of small numbers of people congregating for social purposes and simply ignoring the important public health messages. They are putting our collective progress at risk.” Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan: “We are seeing a number of things which concern us. There are examples of small numbers of people congregating for social purposes and simply ignoring the important public health messages. They are putting our collective progress at risk.” Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

 

Small groups congregating for social reasons and more than the permitted number of mourners gathering at funerals were singled out for mention as contravening public health advice on tackling Covid-19 on Sunday evening.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) reported that another person diagnosed with Covid-19 has died, bringing to 1,979 the total number of deaths related to the disease in the Republic.

Nphet also reported a further 378 cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases here to 67,903.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan noted on Sunday that the average daily five-day coronavirus case count is rising, now having reached more than 400 per day. “This is a worrying development which has persisted for the last few days,” he said.

“We are seeing a number of things which concern us. There are examples of small numbers of people congregating for social purposes and simply ignoring the important public health messages. They are putting our collective progress at risk.

“We are also seeing a number of outbreaks across the country. These include outbreaks in association with funerals. We understand that this is a difficult time for families but it is really important that we do everything we can to avoid the circumstances which promote transmission of the virus.”

There had also been outbreaks associated with workplace settings, he noted. “As we head into a new working week, we need stay at home other than for essential reasons and for personal exercise within 5km. Anyone who can work from home, should work from home.”

In Northern Ireland there were 10 deaths reported on Saturday and nine on Sunday, taking the pandemic death toll for the region to 855.

The health department recorded 511 new cases on Saturday and 472 on Sunday, bringing the weekend tally to 983 and the total of cases so far in the North to 46,831.

Earlier, public health expert Gabriel Scally said having people travel home to Ireland for Christmas was a “recipe for disaster”.

Dr Scally also said the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) had “called it absolutely right along the way” in relation to its advice to Government on Covid-19 restrictions, while other countries had left it too late to act.

Ireland entered the maximum Level 5 lockdown on October 21st for six weeks amid rising coronavirus spread and advice from Nphet. As the end of lockdown approaches there has been much debate about reopening of the hospitality sector and Christmas celebrations.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio One, Dr Scally said about Christmas travel: “I don’t think it’s going to be worth the trouble if people play it properly and isolate properly for two weeks in advance...that’s not much of a Christmas.

Virus travels ‘very well’

“So I really don’t think travel should be on the agenda this Christmas and I hope people stick to that because we know this virus travels very well and having people flowing in-and-out of countries and through airports and all the other travel that it involves is a recipe for disaster,” Dr Scally added.

Dr Scally is president of the Epidemiology and Public Health Section at the UK Royal Society of Medicine, and a member of Independent Sage, the committee advising the UK government on Covid-19.

Public health expert Gabriel Scally said “I really don’t think travel should be on the agenda this Christmas”. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Public health expert Gabriel Scally said “I really don’t think travel should be on the agenda this Christmas”. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Dr Holohan advised earlier this week that Irish people living abroad should not plan to travel home for Christmas due to the risk of importing Covid-19. Christmas visits home will be regarded as non-essential travel and are not recommended, he said.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar had earlier on Thursday advised people intending to come home from abroad for Christmas not to book flights “at the moment” due to the uncertainty from the pandemic. However, Dr Holohan went further, bluntly ruling out such Christmas travel even on compassionate grounds.

Speaking on Sunday, Dr Scally said it was “not the year” for opening up bars and restaurants for Christmas.

“I think our experience with alcohol and Covid-19 is not happy experience and in the run-up to Christmas I think one would need to be extremely cautious before indoor premises serving alcohol were permitted to have any sort of opening hours.”

He said this virus is playing out as many people expected it to, but that the second wave has been “much worse than most people predicted in many countries”.

“But I think that because many countries have left it too late to act. I don’t think Ireland did, I think it’s come down very well in Ireland and everyone’s to be congratulated for it and I think Nphet have have called it absolutely right along the way,” he added.

‘Mature discussion’

He said the issue of Christmas needed a to be a “mature discussion” and wondered if there could be ... “some relaxation for the day itself or for a couple of days in terms of the number people you could meet and how you could meet them.

“Is there a kind of a budget that we can have, loosening that we can have for Christmas. It’ll be an interesting discussion, but it all depends on keeping the numbers down.

“Any time you relax things you make it easier for the virus to transmit – so what can you do. The question is what can you do as well as those relaxations to try to prevent the virus transmitting.”

He pointed out that ventilation, doing things outside rather than inside, maintaining two-metre distancing and redoubling efforts in relation to mask wearing were important.

“There are other things we can do that will go on the positive balance side if we move towards fewer restrictions,” he added.