'Ever-present danger' of further waves of coronavirus, says health chief

Secretary general of Department of Health set to tell Dáil committee that the social and economic costs of Covid-19 have been ‘huge’

“This is not a one, two or even a three-day storm, after which we move to the recovery phase. The acute phase of this crisis will definitely be measured in months, and most probably in years, rather than days.” Photograph: Getty Images

“This is not a one, two or even a three-day storm, after which we move to the recovery phase. The acute phase of this crisis will definitely be measured in months, and most probably in years, rather than days.” Photograph: Getty Images

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The acute emergency phase of the coronavirus crisis may last years, with the “ever present danger” of further waves of cases, according to a top official at the Department of Health.

Secretary general of the Department of Health Jim Breslin is expected to tell the Dáil’s Covid-19 committee that the social and economic costs of Covid-19 have been “huge”, and “will be with us for some time”.

In his opening statement to be delivered on Tuesday, Mr Breslin says while “all crises come in phases”, this public health crisis has a “particularly prolonged acute emergency phase”.

According to Mr Breslin, “we need to be aware that we will continue to be in the acute emergency phase of this crisis for some time, with further waves an ever-present danger”.

“This is not a one, two or even a three-day storm, after which we move to the recovery phase. The acute phase of this crisis will definitely be measured in months, and most probably in years, rather than days.

“The threat from the virus will be a reality for the foreseeable future, and we must all work to protect the space for inquiry and learning if we are to successfully and continually adapt our response.”

Several fronts

The chief executive of the HSE, Paul Reid, will also warn the committee – it will meet in the Dáil chamber due to social distancing requirements – that we are “still very much in the midst of this pandemic crisis”.

“We are not at the end of it by a long stretch. And we continue to manage this crisis across several fronts, not least of which is the enormous additional cost associated with this pandemic.”

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) is also due to appear before the committee. General secretary Patricia King is expected to call on the Government to ensure that the monitoring of workplaces by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) is fully resourced in order to protect workers and prevent a further spread of the virus.

“Given the very serious nature of this virus and the possible severe consequences for those who contract it, it is crucial that the implementation and enforcement powers are actively utilised.

“It is, therefore, essential that the HSA has all the necessary resources available to them to execute a full-scale intensive workplace inspection campaign immediately.

“Not to do so would undoubtedly risk lives and would be inexcusable,” she is expected to say.

Witnesses

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Dáil’s Covid-19 committee has said witnesses can give video evidence in adherence with social distancing measures.

Independent TD Michael McNamara was responding to concerns raised by the former head of the HSE, Tony O’Brien, who had questioned the advisability of having chief medical officer Tony Holohan, Mr Reid and Mr Breslin before the committee.

Mr McNamara said that witnesses at Tuesday’s meeting of the committee would be in the Dáil chamber and in Committee Room One, from where they could give video evidence.

“Any concerns that any witness has regarding public health, regarding other medical concerns, legal concerns or any concerns expressed by any witness will be considered fully by the committee, with the professional advice if that is required,” he said.