‘We’re not there yet’: Nphet warns against further easing of Covid restrictions

Plans to expand quarantine list next week as first Irish case of ‘rare’ blood clot investigated

Deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn: Ireland is ‘weeks away from having the population vaccinated and [we] do not want to go backwards’. Photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins

Deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn: Ireland is ‘weeks away from having the population vaccinated and [we] do not want to go backwards’. Photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins

 

Irish society should not be reopened further at this stage despite improvements in the battle against Covid-19, public health officials have said.

Deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn last night said “We’re not there yet” when asked about the possible resumption of outdoor dining and any further easing of restrictions.

Case numbers dropped 9 per cent last week and there is no evidence yet of a rise in infections related to Easter, but officials said case numbers were still too high to consider a further relaxation of restrictions.

Dr Glynn said Ireland was “weeks away from having the population vaccinated and [we] do not want to go backwards”. He said he “never again” wants to recommend measures to Government that close things down.

“It is our job to be conservative,” he said in an impassioned defence of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet)’s approach. “Our job is to protect public health.”

About one million Covid-19 vaccine doses have now been administered in the State but there remains some uncertainty about the AstraZeneca shot after several EU countries and the UK restricted its use following reports of rare but serious blood clotting in recipients. The first Irish case of this came to light on Thursday in a woman (40) who received the jab.

The woman, who works in health services, is being treated at the Mater hospital for cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST), the blood clot in the brain that EU medicines regulator the European Medicines Agency concluded this week was possibly linked to the AstraZeneca jab.

‘Horrendously sick’

She is in recovery and is expected to be discharged in the coming days after spending a week in a stroke ward.

The woman’s sister, who contacted The Irish Times, said she was “horrendously sick” and that the severity of this is huge.

Dr Lorraine Nolan, chief executive of the Health Products Regulatory Authority, which is investigating the case, told Thursday night’s Nphet briefing that the regulator had received “a case of special interest” involving a person with CVST which was receiving the authority’s “utmost priority”.

The National Immunisation Advisory Committee met on Thursday to consider the concerns around the AstraZeneca vaccine and was engaging with European colleagues. It is to meet again on Friday morning.

Health sources say that vaccinators have reported some resistance among people to the AstraZeneca vaccine in recent days. A delivery of more than 100,000 doses of the vaccine last week means it accounts for a large portion of the shots being administered this week.

On the easing of restrictions, Dr Glynn said thousands of people died last January when Ireland “did what other jurisdictions did”.

He said hundreds of thousands of people are waiting for hospital appointments and thousands need procedures that have been cancelled as a result of the pandemic and “because people shouted loudly in other sectors”.

‘Health first’

“By all means accuse us of being conservative, by all means accuse us of putting public health first,” he told the Nphet briefing.

“Hopefully, quite soon, we’ll get to a point where the needs and the ability to facilitate reopening of much wider parts of society will be possible, but our view from a public health perspective is that we’re not there yet.”

Dr Glynn said he fully appreciated the frustration and anger arising from Nphet’s stance, though he “cannot begin to understand” the impact on those whose businesses were ruined by the pandemic.

“Their businesses have not been ruined by the likes of us trying to protect public health,” he said. “Not everyone will agree with that, but that’s obviously our view.”

Meanwhile, the mandatory hotel quarantine list is expected to be expanded next week to include some major EU members and other countries despite earlier objections from some in Government.

Resistance from Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and his department centred on the fact that there were large numbers of Irish people in countries such as France, Germany and the US. However, it is understood the Department of Health argued strongly this was precisely the reason why more stringent requirements were needed for these countries.

Sources said the move could happen as quickly as next Monday, though that may be delayed until mid-week to obtain Cabinet approval.

Officials from the Department of Health are understood to have been examining whether additional hotel provision is needed in Cork and Rosslare, or whether passengers arriving there could be brought to the hotel currently being used in Dublin.

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