Public must still limit contacts when Level 5 restrictions lift, HSE chief says

Public must still limit contacts when Level 5 lifts, says HSE chief Reid

Paul Reid ‘We do need to give people good hope and encouragement that the actions they’re taking now does merit us all having a reasonable Christmas.’ Photograph: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

Paul Reid ‘We do need to give people good hope and encouragement that the actions they’re taking now does merit us all having a reasonable Christmas.’ Photograph: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

 

The public will still have to limit their contacts when Level 5 restrictions are lifted on December 1st, director general of the HSE Paul Reid has said.

Mr Reid said Christmas was an important time for families and for Irish society, but it was important to be honest with people about the level of contacts they could have, he said.

The 14-day incidence of the virus nationally is 175.5 cases per 100,000 people. Donegal has the highest county incidence at 295.2 and Leitrim has the lowest at 34.3.

In Europe, only Norway, Finland, Estonia and Latvia currently have lower incidence figures than Ireland, according to the European Centre for Disease Control.

While the trends were good in Ireland with numbers coming down, the country had to learn from what happened when society and the economy opened up in June and July, Mr Reid told Newstalk Breakfast.

Because restrictions were lifted in the summer there were “massive rises” in cases again in August, September and October.

Mr Reid said it was important for people to continue to reduce the number of contacts they have and the number of households they visit.

“Christmas is a very important time for families, it’s a very important time for Irish society, it’s hugely valued by everybody. And we do need to give people good hope and encouragement that the actions they’re taking now does merit us all having a reasonable Christmas.

“But I think we equally have to be honest with people and just say as well that if we manage to work through December and throughout Christmas by carrying on the behaviours that we’re doing at the moment, and it’s really about reducing our contacts, it’s a really big important factor that we don’t end up in the same position heading into January, February or March.”

Contact tracing

Mr Reid defended the contact tracking system. He acknowledged that it had been overwhelmed one weekend last month when people who tested positive were being asked to do their own contact tracing. “It did happen, it shouldn’t have happened, it did happen,” he said.

Ireland remains one of the few countries still systematically testing close contacts on day zero and day seven, he pointed out. There will now be a permanent workforce on swabbing and contact tracing and if necessary significant numbers could be deployed.

“We also have significant extra capacity now - we now have about 126,000 on the island capacity of lab testing,” he said.

Nursing homes

With regard to nursing homes , Mr Reid said that the HSE, the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa)and the Department of Health were in close, regular contact and could mobilise into any nursing homes should a situation arise.

Mr Reid also said the HSE was working very closely with unions to ensure healthcare workers were protected.

When asked about the numbers of health care workers who had died from Covid-19, Mr Reid said:

“One of the hardest things I’ve done in my professional career is talking to some families who have lost loved ones in the health service through Covid. It is a very tough period for people when that happens, absolutely, for families.”

There had been significant investment in PPE and the current stock would last through the winter, he said.

Travel from Denmark

Public health expert Dr Gabriel Scally said Christmas was going to pose “huge difficulties” this year because of restrictions. The problem was that people would want to travel home while the virus was still in circulation, he said.

Level 5 restriction were working to bring down the number of cases, but it was going to be very difficult to get people to observe social distancing. “People need to stick to social distancing,” he advised.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne show, Dr Scally also called for more attention to be paid to the issue of ventilation at home and in the workplace.

Dr Scally said that travel into Ireland from Denmark should be completely restricted until the current outbreak connected to mink was under control. This was a really important issue as the virus had changed “along the way” via transmission from human to animal and back to human again. He was concerned that this could have an impact on vaccines being developed.

“We can’t really play catch up with this virus.”

Dr Scally also called for a better system of managed isolation, the current system (voluntary isolation) was not working very well, he said.

There was no magic bullet when it came to dealing with Covid-19, he said. The test and tracing system in the UK, particularly in England was a shambles. It had a very poor success rate and was “not doing the job.”

He called for an integrated system across the island of Ireland. The situation, both North and South, would have been better if both system had “worked in train.”

The issue of movement across the Border was always going to be a problem, he said. The lack of data and the lack of transparency with the figures in Northern Ireland was also a problem.

Tracker app

Meanwhile, almost 200,000 users of the HSE’s Covid-19 tracker app have not supplied a contact phone number to facilitate tracking in event of being identified as a close contact.

However, the HSE said when someone receives a close contact alert they can enter the number at this stage and request a call back from contact tracing. They can also ring the HSE to arrange a call back.