Explainer: What can the over-70s do from Monday’s reopening phase?

Public health advice is to ‘use your judgment’ on how best to follow existing guidance

A select number of Ireland’s National Cultural Institutions will reopen after the weekend, including the National Gallery, the National Library and IMMA. Video: Bryan O’Brien

 

The State – largely – reopens on Monday, leaving people over 70 and the medically vulnerable with choices to make. Urging caution, the chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan, nevertheless, accepts that normal life “has to resume”.

What is this group generally being advised to do from Monday?

Use one’s judgment. Maintain physical distancing from visitors and when visiting. Use face coverings during indoor visits and while out shopping or in busy public places.

Should the over-70s and medically vulnerable travel anywhere in Ireland?

There is nothing stopping them. Prof Mary Horgan, infectious diseases physician and president of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, said travelling to remote or rural areas with low infection rates is a “safe thing to do”.

“It is following simple rules: the three Cs – avoiding crowds, avoiding too many contacts and avoiding closed environments that are not well ventilated,” she said.

Should such people travel sooner rather than later?

Probably. Virus levels are now very low, so now might be the time to visit much-missed loved ones.

“This is people’s opportunity. If you want to visit those frail elderly [friends or relatives], this is your time to do it because it is never going to be better,” said Dr Mary Favier, Cork-based GP and president of the Irish College of General Practitioners.

“We have the lowest [Covid-19] incidence rate in Europe at the moment and I am guessing it will probably never be lower than this week because it will rise during the easing of the restrictions inevitably.”

Should people over 70 stay overnight with a loved one or permit sleepovers for grandchildren?

The usual distancing advice applies, but the vulnerable should be more careful.

Dr Eoin Feeney, an infectious diseases specialist at St Vincent’s hospital in Dublin, says relatives can stay with loved ones if they stay apart while in the house, keep washing hands and if everyone is well.

“If you are indoors and close to people, we are recommending that face coverings are worn. If someone is upstairs and someone else is downstairs, I don’t see a problem with that,” he said.

What about hugging? Can people in vulnerable groups hug others?

Again, it is down to best judgment and personal choices, health experts say. Doctors say not every person over 70 is at the same risk. Older people with other illnesses are at greater risk

With good hand hygiene and wearing face coverings inside, Dr Feeney says “limited hugs” are “reasonable” because community transmission is currently low. Risks must be assessed but “everyone” needs the lift of a relative’s visit.

Dr Mary Favier said different people face different risks. One of her 75-year-old patients wants to go back out on their motorcycle. Another is more frail, has not left the house for months and needs to start with exercising at home.

“It is all about the balance of the risks,” she said, adding that GPs offer older patients the opportunity and space to explore the subject. “Often they are over-protected by over-zealous relatives,” she said.

Age Action, the advocacy group for older people, said older people must exercise their own judgment “on how to live their lives”, but they need accurate information. There is “a level of frustration” at the vagueness of the guidelines, said Age Action’s Celine Clarke, especially about the ones due to come into force when Phase 4 kicks in on July 20th.