A recommendation from public health experts to ease most Covid-19 restrictions appears to be “largely” the right move, according to an infectious disease expert.
However, Dr Eoghan de Barra, a consultant at Dublin’s Beaumont Hospital, said people should not forget the vulnerable in society who will be feeling huge anxiety about the pace of these changes, which is expected to be swift.
The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) last night gave the go-ahead for the removal of almost all pandemic restrictions and regulations.
This includes an expected return to normal opening hours for hospitality in the near future and the end of the use of the digital Covid pass for those attending pubs, restaurants and cinemas.
A phased return to work has also been recommended at a time when thousands of daily cases of the disease continue to be recorded.
Speaking on Newstalk’s Pat Kenny show on Friday, Dr de Barra said the situation had improved in Ireland but that a significant number of people were still falling ill with Covid-19.
“I think this is largely where we wanted to get to, we have enough data to suggest that it (Omicron) hasn’t caused a huge impact with the severely ill, it’s obviously impacted service provision and staffing and that’s the next piece that’s still going to linger,” he said.
“There are clearly still people who are suffering with this, there’s people in ICU today, there’s individual stories playing out and we shouldn’t forget that there are many vulnerable in society that are feeling huge anxiety with the pace of this.
“I think largely it’s the right direction at the moment with cautious caveats.”
“The wave isn’t always up and down, it can have humps along the way, the question is what impact that has on the few people that end up severely ill,” he said.
“This virus continues to change and it still poses a threat globally,” Dr de Barra added. “This wave looks like we’re in a good position and we can progress lifting restrictions, but the pandemic isn’t over and we don’t know what’s going to happen next.”
The consultant said that an easing restrictions provided an opportunity to “build and change capacity for whatever happens next”.
“This is the breathing space in which to prepare and change our approach for whatever happens next and if nothing else happens – brilliant. We should be in a prepared position.”
Meanwhile, virologist Dr Gerald Barry said that while “a wall of immunity” had been built up in Ireland due to the vaccination programme and the high levels of infection, talk of the pandemic being over was “premature”.
“The virus will continue to affect people. It is still making people sick, maybe not putting them in hospital but still making people sick. It will still kill people, but I think in a way we have accepted with other diseases that a certain percentage of people that are going to get infected will die,” he told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.
Dr Barry said there were still many people in the population who would be at an increased risk of infection if most restrictions were lifted.
“There are still massive levels of infection in the country. We don’t really know how many people are being infected every day. We’ve lost complete sight of numbers of infections in the country.”
Dr Lucy Jessop, director of public health with the National Immunisation Advisory Committee, said the proposed changes were welcome but that people should still be careful and that vaccination was an important tool to keeping adults and children protected against Covid-19.
She said there was “understandable” concern among some parents at the prospect of their child taking a vaccine and that information to help with their decision could be found on the HSE and World Health Organisation websites.
“In America they’ve given over 8.5 million doses (to children) and we are seeing no unexpected side effects,” she said.
“Some (unvaccinated children) will have to go to hospital, will get very sick and end up in intensive care. Research shows that vaccine protects them against one of the very serious side effects, which is this multisystem inflammatory disorder. The vaccine seems very effective at protecting children against that, so that’s another really important reason to get children vaccinated.”