Prepare for six to nine months of Covid-19 restraints, warn health officials

No return to ‘normal’ after surge in cases handled, says acting chief medical officer

No further deaths from coronavirus were confirmed on Monday, leaving the State’s death toll at 1,802. File photograph: The Irish Times

No further deaths from coronavirus were confirmed on Monday, leaving the State’s death toll at 1,802. File photograph: The Irish Times

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People should prepare for another six to nine months of Covid-19 restrictions, involving repeated waves of the virus, senior health officials have warned.

Acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn last night warned there will be no “going back to normal” after the current surge in cases has been handled. And there will be no “significant game changer” such as a readily available vaccine to relieve matters for the next six to nine months.

HSE chief executive Paul Reid will today tell TDs that “it is increasingly evident that we can expect, and should therefore plan for, subsequent waves” of the disease.

With admissions to hospitals “definitely rising”, Mr Reid will tell the Oireachtas special committee on Covid-19 that “a difficult winter season, coupled with a resurgence in Covid-19, is the worst possible scenario for our health services”.

Even with a vaccine “the reality is that we will be dealing with Covid-19 for a long time yet” and behavioural and societal changes are needed to manage the pandemic, Mr Reid will say in his statement to the committee.

When asked at a National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) briefing if Ireland was doomed to repeated cycles involving the lifting of restrictions as case numbers dropped, followed by their reimposition as infections increased again, Dr Glynn replied: “I don’t think we’re doomed.

“We have to be honest, we’re not going to have a vaccine, we’re not going to have a treatment, we’re not going to have any significant game changer for the next six months and the Government plan reflects that we have to live with this for the next six to nine months”.

Dr Glynn said there was an “ unbelievable amount of work going on in terms of treatments, vaccines, different types of tests but we are not quite there yet”.

“I’m hoping we will have news on that and that the information on that will evolve between now and Christmas but ultimately I think we are looking at a six- to nine-month timeframe.”

Acknowledging this was “not an easy message for people to hear”, he said the “vast majority” of society was open at present.

“Our schools are back, most workplaces are open, hospitals are open and people are getting treated. So there’s an awful lot happening.”

A further 390 confirmed cases of Covid-19 were reported by the NPHET yesterday evening, with no further deaths from the disease confirmed. Of the new cases, 209 are in Dublin, 27 in Cork and 22 in Donegal.

No further deaths from the disease were confirmed, leaving the State’s total at 1,802. More than 1 million people have succumbed to Covid-19 around the world as of Tuesday, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University. “Our world has reached an agonising milestone,” UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres said in a statement. “It’s a mind-numbing figure. Yet we must never lose sight of each and every individual life. They were fathers and mothers, wives and husbands, brothers and sisters, friends and colleagues.”

It took just three months for Covid-19 deaths to double from half a million, an accelerating rate of fatalities since the first death was recorded in China in early January.

Numbers on the rise

Dr Glynn said case numbers were beginning to stabilise in Dublin but were rising fast in Cork, Galway, Monaghan and Roscommon.

Asked why NPHET officials would not be taking up an invitation to appear before the Oireachtas Covid-19 committee today, Dr Glynn replied that was a matter for the Department of Health. Committee chairman Michael McNamara said NPHET had informed the committee for a second week it would not be attending.

He said members had wanted to question officials about the “conspicuous lack of any published scientific evidence” for the criteria applied when raising or lowering the level of restrictions in a county. The department told The Irish Times that Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly would provide the committee with an update on the Government’s framework plan later this week.

The Cabinet will on Tuesday consider proposals which would allow the Government to sanction pay rises for groups in the public service. Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath is expected to ask the Cabinet to allow him to draft new legislation which would get around a legal ban on pay increases under financial emergency legislation.

This would facilitate a new pay structure for public health doctors and allow for the commencement of talks between the Government and medical organisations on a new Sláintecare contract for hospital consultants.

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