Holohan raises hopes of All-Ireland finals with spectators

Advice from Niac due in coming days on use of AstraZeneca and J&J vaccines on under 50s

Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Health, Dr Holohan said he was not opposed to antigen tests or to retailers selling them but he was concerned about people’s interpretation of the result of a test. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Health, Dr Holohan said he was not opposed to antigen tests or to retailers selling them but he was concerned about people’s interpretation of the result of a test. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

The Chief Medical Officer has said that there is currently “no good reason” for the continuation of visitor restrictions at maternity units.

Dr Tony Holohan said he does not see a justification for continuing a policy of excluding partners of pregnant women during the labour process.

“The situation is at the moment that there is no good reason in public health terms for why those restrictions would remain in place,” Dr Holohan told RTÉ’s Six One News.

He said the Health Service Executive (HSE) has already made it clear that there is currently “no good reason in public health terms for why those restrictions would remain in place”.

However, he said individual hospitals have the freedom to assess the suitability of extra restrictions, and “it is appropriate that they would do so”.

The National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) has been leading a campaign for a streamlined approach to restrictions across all maternity hospitals. The organisation is calling for partners of pregnant women to be allowed to be present for all scans, during labour and during postnatal care.

Time to lift restrictions

The HSE wrote to the State’s 19 maternity hospitals last week telling them it was time to lift restrictions on visiting partners. HSE chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry wrote that the visitor restrictions are a “cause of distress to patients and their partners at a very important time in their lives”.

Dr Henry said restrictions on partners attending anomaly scans and being present at births should “only happen if it is absolutely essential to safe operations of the maternity services”.

The health service’s chief executive Paul Reid has also said “conditions are right” to lift restrictions.

Dr Holohan, meanwhile, has said that he would like to think that there could be spectators at this year’s All-Ireland finals.

The more people who got vaccinated the more likely the return to events, he told RTÉ Radio’s News at One.

Dr Holohan said that if there was really good progress and no difficulty with variants then outdoor events such as Electric Picnic could be considered along with sporting events.

However, Dr Holohan said people should not get ahead of themselves and should still be cautious and maintain public health measures.

The ambition was to “get through May” and then to move on to the easing of further restrictions on June 7th if all the current measures proceeded safely, “then we can look if other things could become possible”.

Minister for Arts and Culture Catherine Martin has also signalled the return of spectator sports and live entertainment events later in the summer.

Live music test events

Asked by RTÉ for a timeframe, she replied: “I think July at the latest, but I would be more ambitious than that and I’d like to see some live music test events take place in June because these venues and performers have been stopped by the pandemic from earning a living and we have missed performing, so I’m determined to make that happen as soon as possible.”

Dr Holohan urged people who had been vaccinated to get out and about and benefit from being vaccinated but he warned that Covid-19 could transmit very easily in households and advised people to maintain public health measures.

The Chief Medical Officer said he had written to the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) to seek updated advice on the use of the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines on people under the age of 50 and he expected a response in the coming days. In the meantime the vaccine roll out would continue through May for at-risk groups and those over 50.

“Then it is a question of what happens next. We might have increased flexibility on AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.”

Dr Holohan said he was not concluding that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine could not be used for younger age cohorts. He said there would be a vaccine for everyone and it would depend on the advice from Niac.

Vaccines were being considered for under 18s but a recommendation would have to be given first, he added.

Dr Holohan said he was not opposed to antigen tests or to retailers selling them but he was concerned about people’s interpretation of the result of a test. There was a risk that if someone got a negative result that might falsely reassure them when 50 per cent of antigen tests could be misleading and this meant the potential for superspreader events.

“We can’t have people behaving as if they don’t have the disease when they do.”

Dr Holohan said it was not a question of trust in the public it was the fact that the test did not give “a reliable enough” result.

On the issue of foreign travel, he said it was getting near the stage when it could be examined, but it would not happen until it was safe and appropriate to do so. That was in the “near to medium term”.

Mandatory hotel quarantine would continue for as long as it had value and was considered an effective measure to halt transmission.

It had been a difficult year for so many people who had lost loved ones and who had suffered economic and social burdens, he added. The situation had improved and it would continue to improve if public health measures were adhered to, he said.