An immunology expert has said he would be “surprised and disappointed” if routine contact tracing for people with Covid-19 end from next month.
The Irish Times reported on Saturday morning that most tracing of adult cases’ contacts would end on October 22nd, under proposals to be considered by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) in October.
But Kingston Mills, professor of experimental immunology and academic director of the Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute at TCD, said: “I think Nphet are considering I don’t think they’ve decided it yet. I’d be very surprised, I’d be very disappointed, if they decided that.
“The problem is that Ireland has still got one of the highest case rate per 100,000 in Europe if not the whole world. So we’re not at the stage yet. We’re getting there...the disease is now moving down into the younger population which is less serious in terms of hospitalisations but I don’t think we’re at the stage yet where we can abandon testing.
“The problem has been, and this is part of the problem in schools in the last few weeks, they’ve been doing so much testing, I think 157,000 tests in a week but the positivity rate’s still over 5 per cent and that’s huge.
“So we can’t at this stage chuck in the towel on testing and hope for the best.”
Prof Mills was speaking to Katie Hannon on RTÉ Radio One on Saturday afternoon.
Meanwhile, the Department of Health said on Saturday afternoon there were a further 1,335 confirmed cases of Covid-19.
As of 8am on Saturday, 282 Covid-19 patients were hospitalised, of which 65 were in ICU.
In Northern Ireland, there have been a further five deaths of patients who had previously tested positive for Covid-19. Another 1,120 cases were also notified by the North’s Department of Health on Saturday.
Under the proposed change to current arrangements in the Republic, public-health specialists could still trigger contact tracing following a risk assessment of a particular case or cluster of cases. However, routine use of contact tracing would end.
Nphet officials want to monitor this week’s decision to end contact tracing of asymptomatic cases in the classroom before making a final decision to end contact tracing of adult cases. Travel-related cases are also being monitored following the decision earlier this month to end flight contact tracing.
However, there is confidence that the infection rate among primary schoolchildren will settle down over the coming weeks, despite the decision to allow close contacts not showing symptoms to attend school rather than having to restrict their movements at home.
According to Nphet official Prof Philip Nolan on Friday, the incidence of the disease in five- to 12-year-olds is “at least stable, and probably decreasing”, with continued high levels of testing.
The plan to end most contact tracing is part of wider move towards normality in this phase of the pandemic, when more than 90 per cent of the population is largely protected against Covid-19 through vaccination or previous infection.
The Government has set October 22nd as the date for scrapping most Covid-19 restrictions, provided the incidence of the virus remains stable or is falling. Another criterion, the 90 per cent of adults being vaccinated target, has already been reached.
The scale of the State’s contact-tracing operation is large, with almost 1,000 people on it in the Health Service Executive. In mid-August, this involved contacting more than 13,000 cases a week, with 31,000 close contacts notified to staff.
Meanwhile, the Health Service Executive (HSE) has outlined Saturday’s opening hours for more than 20 walk-in Covid-19 vaccination centres around the country.
People attending walk-in centres can get a vaccine without an appointment, although the centres are limited to people aged 12 and older, and children aged 12-15 must attend with a parent or guardian.
Most walk-in clinics offer the first or second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. If a person has had a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine and does not want a second dose of AstraZeneca, they can choose to get an mRNA vaccine as a second dose instead.
Saturday’s walk-in centres include the Kilmore Hotel, Co Cavan (8.30am-4pm); City Hall, Dublin (11am-2pm); Clonakilty GAA Club, Co Cork (9.15am-3pm); Letterkenny IT, Co Donegal (10.15am-5.30pm); Citywest Convention Centre, Co Dublin (8.15am-6pm); and the National Show Centre, Co Dublin (8.30am-12.30pm and 1.40pm-6.30pm).
Elsewhere, walk-in centres will be open at Galway Racecourse (8.30am-4.30pm); Punchestown Racecourse, Co Kildare (9am-5pm); Cillin Hill Conference Centre, Co Kilkenny (8.15am-12.30pm); St Fintans Campus Portlaoise (11.30am-3pm); Breaffy House Resort, Co Mayo (11.30am-5.30pm); Fairyhouse Racecourse, Co Kildare (10am-4pm); and Simonstown GAA Club, Co Meath (9am-5pm).
Finally, there are walk-in centres open at Glencarn Hotel, Co Monaghan (10am-4pm); Offaly Vaccination Centre (10am-3pm); Kilbride Community Centre, Co Roscommon (9.15am-4.10pm); Sligo IT (10am-4pm); Abbey Court Hotel, Co Tipperary (9am-6pm); Clonmel Park Hotel, Co Tipperary (9am-1pm); Waterford IT (8.30am-12.30pm for ages above 16 years only, and 1.30pm-5.15pm for those aged 12-15); Westmeath Community Vaccination Centre (9.30am-11am for Pfizer and 9.30am-12.30pm for Moderna); Astro Active Centre, Co Wexford (9am-1pm); and Shoreline, Co Wicklow (10am-4pm).