Ireland needs to ‘rapidly upscale’ before second wave, committee to hear

Infectious diseases expert will emphasise rapid testing and contact tracing

An infectious diseases specialist will on Thursday warn the Oireachtas about a second wave of Covid-19 and call on the Government for greater healthcare investment over the coming weeks "to rapidly upscale in emergency department capacity and isolation room facilities in hospitals."

Professor Paddy Mallon, an infectious diseases consultant at St Vincent's and UCD, will tell the Covid-19 special committee that a highly effective programme of rapid testing, contact tracing and community actions must become a priority "in maintaining our national biosecurity."

The medic will tell TDs that as society reopens, the public is handing back some responsibility for controlling the virus to the State and if the programme of testing and tracing “fails to work effectively, we risk losing the gains provided to us through the sacrifices of the Irish people.”

“We are still in the midst of a national public health emergency and our citizens are at no less risk of severe illness and death if they contract Covid-19 infection now than they were back in March,” Prof Mallon will tell the Oireachtas committee.

He will tell say that there is “a very narrow window of opportunity” to learn from the lessons of the first wave and that this time must be used “wisely to improve our infrastructure.”

“Failure to learn, or delays in planning and resourcing for what is ahead, would not only be potentially negligent but would be a travesty to the memories of those who have died from Covid-19, some avoidably, during the first wave,” Prof Mallon will say in his opening statement.

Medical specialists

He will call for networks of medical specialists to be established operating regionally under a common governance structure to enable “scalable, rapid regional responses to both current and future threats as they arise and evolve” and the rapid implementation of national guidelines.

The HSE's chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry will tell the committee that a critical project for a new model of contact tracing and testing that will operate for the next 18 months and beyond will run over the summer months with a target implementation date in late August.

It will be “flexible for any potential surges” of the diseases that may come, he will say.

School closures will have a “real risk of regression” for many vulnerable children with complex needs, the Department of Education has warned.

At a meeting of the Covid-19 special committee on Thursday, a senior department official will say that the loss of the regular school routine, social interaction with friends, access to teachers and vital supports are presenting risk of harming the learning, the social and emotional development, and wellbeing of these children.

There are about 14,000 children attending special schools or special classes with special or complex needs.

Inclusion Ireland, the support group for children with disabilities, said its survey of members found that most parents are struggling to educate and support their vulnerable children at home.

It says support from schools has been variable, from “excellent to almost non-existent”, while plans for a summer catch-up programme continues to exclude some cohorts of children with disabilities and has been characterised by “poor planning leaving schools and families frustrated and in the dark”.