Further year of Covid curbs needed to protect public, says top health official

Social distancing and restrictions likely until enough vaccinations complete – Dr Colm Henry

Another year of restrictions related to Covid-19 would be necessary before the number of people vaccinated would be sufficient to protect the public in general from the disease, a top health official has said.

Meanwhile, close to 6,500 HSE staff are currently out sick with Covid-19, the HSE chief Paul Reid has stated.

Dr Colm Henry, chief clinical officer at the HSE, said in radio comments that social distancing and restrictions in some form were likely for the rest of 2021 at least, until enough of the population could be vaccinated to grant general or herd immunity.

Hospital Report

“The answer, and not everyone likes it but it’s the truth... is that the public in general won’t have protection from Covid-19 for at least a year... In the meantime, it’s more important than ever to abide by the public health guidance so that we can stop the spread of the virus,” he told Máirín Ní Ghadhra on Raidió na Gaeltachta.


“We’re in the middle of the main wave now... and we can see the damage that has been wrought. The vaccine is coming, and we’ll come out of this if we can stick to the public health guidelines until everyone has been vaccinated.”

Meanwhile, HSE chief executive Paul Reid said the hospital system is “completely tightening up” and has “formally gone into surge capacity”.

The national critical care surge group had been mobilised and close to 6,500 HSE staff are currently out sick with Covid-19, with about 4,000 of those having been working in hospitals, he said.

"People are quite sick with this virus and we are seeing families being treated, we're seeing young people being treated in hospital. So again, it's a really strong message out to the public – this virus infects everybody," he told RTÉ's Saturday with Katie Hannon show.

The number of people in hospital with Covid-19 has risen slightly to 1,848, according to the latest figures on Saturday morning.

Over the last 24 hours, there have been 115 Covid-19 admissions to hospital and 135 patients discharged, the Government’s Covid-19 data hub shows. There are currently 191 patients with the virus in intensive care (ICU).

Mr Reid said there are 28 critical care beds available for adults and 12 for children. He said the HSE is expecting "a reasonable number" of the 6,500 staff currently out sick with Covid-19 "coming back very shortly". He said some teams have been redeployed to support ICU, while non-urgent care has been suspended in hospitals.

The HSE chief said there are about 250 people who are not in ICU but who still require “significant supports such as oxygen”.

“We have triggered the private hospital agreement and have about 125 beds supported in private hospitals for non-Covid care such as for cardio or cancer patients,” he added.

‘Significant pressure’

Mr Reid said nursing homes are under “significant pressure”, with about 25 per cent of the facilities experiencing Covid-19 outbreaks.

He said the HSE "weren't happy whatsoever" when Pfizer announced a reduction in manufacturing of its vaccine on Friday afternoon.

"I know it got escalated to senior Government levels and I know the Taoiseach made calls across Europe on it," Mr Reid said. "Thankfully, the situation as announced last night from Pfizer is that it won't have the impact that was originally projected."

A further 50 coronavirus-related deaths were reported by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) on Friday, along with 3,498 new cases.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan urged anyone arriving into the State from Brazil to arrange for a coronavirus test due to the emergence of a new variant which has not as yet been detected in the State.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the State's latest vaccination figures "put us at number one in the EU 27 right now".

“That’s in terms of the number of vaccinations happening per day,” he said on a video posted on Twitter on Friday evening.

“It’s great we’ve moved quickly to get our nursing home residents and staff vaccinated, and we’re making great progress with all our frontline healthcare workers right across the country.

“Of course it won’t always be like this, as other countries will catch up and there will be times when we have to slow down.”

Latest figures from last Wednesday showed a total of 77,303 Covid-19 vaccines had been administered in the State.

Dr Ronan Glynn, the deputy chief medical officer, said the number of close contacts per confirmed cases has dropped to 2.3 after peaking at 6 at the end of December.

“We have a very long way to go but the majority of people are stepping up and playing their part,” he said.

"Do not be disheartened by stories of non-compliance. Solidarity has been and remains the hallmark of our response to date in Ireland – the silent majority continue to do the right thing."

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times