Dublin needs ‘significant improvement’ in Covid case numbers, Oireachtas committee hears

Acting chief medical officer says he would only expect latest measures in capital to be taking effect now

Acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn has told the Dáil Covid-19 committee that NPHET will need to see a "significant improvement" in coronavirus levels in Dublin before the county can move to a level two lockdown. Video: Oireachtas TV

 

There needs to be a “significant improvement in Dublin” in terms of Covid-19 case numbers in the coming days, acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn has said.

He was speaking at an Oireachtas Covid Committee hearing on Wednesday morning attended by members of the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET).

Dr Glynn said although he would only expect the measures put in place for the capital to have an effect now, “we need to see a significant improvement in Dublin in the coming days, we’re not seeing it yet.”

Asked later in the session by Dún Laoghaire TD Jennifer Carroll McNeill whether he would recommend the extension of the current restrictions if they were expiring tomorrow, Dr Glynn said he would. “The optimist in me would say Dublin appears to be stabilising, but that’s an optimistic note. We do need to see what happens in the next three to four days in particular,” he said.

Dr Glynn said the disease remains widely dispersed across the capital, in a number of different settings, which he said is positive in one sense in that there aren’t any major large outbreaks. “On the other hand it makes it more difficult to control because there isn’t one obvious target,” he said.

He added that in the first instance, he wanted to see the number of cases in Dublin not going up day on day, strongly emphasising people across the capital need to be reducing discretionary social activities and not going to work unless it is essential.

Dr Glynn said it was the role of every sporting, cultural and commercial organisation to do its utmost to reduce activities that lead to mixing of people, but he added: “I don’t think we’re seeing enough evidence of that.

“Anecdotally, look at the amount of traffic on the roads – it’s hard to believe people have taken the message to heart that they should not be going to work unless it’s absolutely essential.”

The committee also heard evidence from Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly; the director of the national virus reference laboratory, Dr Cillian de Gascun; and the chair of the Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, Prof Philip Nolan.

Asked about changes to travel strategy, Mr Donnelly told Labour’s Duncan Smith that NPHET’s advice was that randomised testing at airports was not the best use of Ireland’s testing capacity.

However, he said there is “major progress” happening due to Ireland’s decision to move towards the European Commission’s traffic light system. “If and when we fully adopt it, it would see a liberalisation in foreign travel,” he said.

If that system was adopted, the Minister said Ireland would be divided into three separate regions under the policy. “Airport testing would need to be looked at within that context,” he said.

Prof Nolan said although he was not convinced that testing alone would be effective, but he said it could be combined with other measures such as isolation for those arriving from some countries.

“A well-worked-through international regime for safe travel is a way forward,” he said.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly appears at the Oireachtas special committee on Covid-19
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly appears at the Oireachtas special committee on Covid-19

Earlier at the hearing, Mr Donnelly announced he will create public health consultancy posts and double the amount of public health professionals working in the health service.

The Minister said the Health Service Executive will begin a recruitment campaign for 255 public health doctors, nurses, scientists and support staff in the next two weeks.

“I am also creating consultant posts for public health doctors,” he said. “Yesterday, Cabinet approved the legislation necessary for this, and I will now be progressing it in consultation with the unions.”

The Minister also also confirmed he has sanctioned €30 million for the continuation of supports for the nursing homes sector, the Temporary Assistance Payment Scheme.

“This will extend these much-needed supports to nursing homes up to the end of this year. Further supports will be examined in the context of the budgetary process.”

At the start of the meeting, several committee members expressed strong concerns that the four were appearing together.

Sinn Féin health spokesman David Cullinane said that having the NPHET members and the Minister at the same time “creates practical problems but also issues around conflicts of interest”.

Social Democrats co-leader Roisin Shortall said the situation is “entirely unsatisfactory . . . it is absolutely reasonable of us to expect to have at least one session with NPHET, there are endless outstanding questions about the decisions being taken”.

Michael McNamara, the committee chair, said the situation was “very regrettable”, and he criticised the fact he only learned the NPHET members were joining the committee via the media.

Several members suggested there was “blocking” of their attempts to hear evidence from NPHET, with Richard Boyd-Barrett saying: “Someone is operating a control freak attitude to this and they should desist.”

A further 363 cases of Covid-19, including 154 in Dublin, were reported by NPHET on Tuesday. One further death from the disease was confirmed, with the total now at 1,803.

Figures published on Tuesday evening show there have been 35,740 cases of the disease in the State, with the first was confirmed seven months ago on February 29th.

Of the latest cases, 154 cases are in Dublin, 40 in Cork, 23 in Donegal, 16 in Wexford, 15 in Roscommon, 14 in Galway, 14 in Monaghan, 11 in Kildare, 11 in Meath, 11 in Wicklow, nine in Limerick, six in Clare, five in Mayo, five in Tipperary with the remaining 29 cases split among nine counties. Women accounted for 191 of the infections and men for 172.