Holohan calls for end to victim-blaming on breaches of public health guidelines

No further coronavirus-related deaths and 252 cases confirmed, lowest daily figure since September

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan has said that Ireland's 14-day incidence rate of Covid-19 is the 4th lowest in Europe. Video: RTÉ

 

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan has called for an end to victim-blaming in relation to people who infringe public health guidelines.

Asked about weekend images of GAA players celebrating victories, Dr Holohan said it was “not a surprise” that teams winning important matches “tend to celebrate”.

He called for a “a certain understanding and tolerance and acceptance” of such scenes “in broad terms”.

“I think we have tipped too much as a country into a sense of blame and trying to find the latest person who is in breach of a particular guideline and trying to find a lamppost to hang them from,” he told the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) briefing on Monday.

“We need to have more tolerance and acceptance that this is a very high standard of behaviour that the whole population has kept up.”

He said Nphet had sought to preserve elite sporting activity “with good reason”.

In sporting terms, last weekend had been very enjoyable and this helped people “get through the challenge” of stay-at-home measures. Sporting organisations had done a huge job in delivering a “modest number” of sporting activities in as safe a way as possible. “They’ve done great work,” said Dr Holohan, a keen GAA fan.

Lowest number of cases

No further deaths of people with Covid-19 were reported by Nphet on Monday. The total number of virus-related deaths in the pandemic remains at 2,022.

Another 252 confirmed cases of the disease were reported, bringing to 70,711 the total number of cases in the Republic.

This is the lowest daily case figure since September 26th, though Monday’s figures are often lower than during the rest of the week.

Of the new cases, 88 are in Dublin, 26 in Cork, 21 in Kilkenny, 16 in Louth, 16 in Mayo, with the remaining 85 cases spread across another 20 counties.

On Monday afternoon, there were 289 Covid-19 patients in hospital, including 33 in ICU. There were 11 hospitalisations in the past 24 hours.

The national 14-day incidence rate now stands at 108.7 cases per 100,000 people. Donegal has the highest incidence at 227.4, followed by Louth at 211.8. Wexford has the lowest incidence, at 36.1.

So far this month, there have been 88 deaths related to Covid-19 , compared to 119 in October and 37 in September.

Ireland’s incidence of the virus has fallen by 40 per cent in the past fortnight - but only 2 per cent in the last week - the fourth biggest reduction in Europe, Dr Holohan said.

The level of worry about the pandemic has fallen to levels not seen since July, he said, while more people think the worst is behind us. This could be related to positive news on the development of vaccines, he acknowledged.

However, small changes in attitudes can lead to changes in behaviour that can alter the pattern of infection. This can lead to “people getting ahead of where they should be”, he said, adding that “we still have Level 5 till the end of the month”.

Asked about the reduction in case numbers, Dr Holohan said there was still “significant work to do” and he hoped to see a further reduction in cases.

With the five-day average of cases still above 300 a day, even a small change in the reproduction number would create problems in a short period of time, he said.

At 300 cases a day, this challenge could arise “within a number of weeks” if things worsened.

Substantial degree of hope

Dr Holohan said the year had been long and difficult and it was hard to keep up good public health behaviours. “When things are getting better, that can lead to a degree of letting the guard drop, when the things we did religiously, we don’t do quite as often.”

However, a “blame-oriented response” was not appropriate and it had to be accepted that “not each of us is going to be perfect all the time”.

He declined to be drawn on what recommendations Nphet will make later this week, but said the more progress was made in reducing cases, “the more choice we’ll have” in terms of easing restrictions.

There have been 20 new workplace outbreaks in the the past week, the briefing heard, and 121 investigations into workplace outbreaks remain open.

Dr Holohan said the news emerging from companies developing Covid-19 vaccines provide a “substantial degree of hope” but regulatory bodies would have to make assessments before this hope could be realised.

The Government-appointed taskforce on vaccine rollout, whose first meeting he attended on Monday, would be “working hard” on finalising a national plan in the coming weeks, he said.

On Monday researchers announced the coronavirus vaccine developed by Oxford university and AstraZeneca has shown greater than expected efficacy.

When the vaccine was given as a half dose, followed by a full one at least one month later, efficacy was 90 per cent. When the jab was given as two full doses at least one month apart, efficacy was 62 per cent. The average efficacy was 70 per cent.

It comes as the Government will make a decision on either Thursday or Friday on how to exit the six-week lockdown which is due to end on Tuesday, December 1st.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said restricting visitors to households helped reduce the spread of coronavirus and the Government must “bear that in mind” as it looks to lift Level 5 restrictions.