Future restrictions ‘cannot be ruled out’, Chief Medical Officer will warn

The Chief Medical Officer will warn today that new restrictions cannot be ruled out and “may be required in the future”.

ppearing before TDs and senators at the Oireachtas Health Committee this morning, Dr Tony Holohan will say that “rapid” self-isolation, mask wearing and robust testing and contact tracing will remain through the autumn and winter.

Despite very high levels of Covid-19 vaccine uptake, Dr Holohan will also say vaccines on their own will not bring down the reproductive ‘R’ number below 1 this autumn and winter due to the Delta variant.

“We cannot predict with certainty the future trajectory of the disease and, consequently, we cannot fully rule out the possibility that the reintroduction of measures may be required in the future,” he writes in his opening statement, which was seen by the Irish Independent.

“We must continue to ensure our response is agile and flexible, with an ability to pivot rapidly and respond to any emerging threat.”

This will mean there will remain a need for public health measures to remain throughout the coming months, according to Dr Holohan.

There will remain a need for rapid self-isolation if symptomatic, mask wearing in healthcare settings, indoor retail and public transport and “robust public health surveillance and response capacities, including testing, contact tracing, surveillance and sequencing capacities for Covid-19”.

“In the context of this highly-transmissible variant, it is unlikely that vaccination alone, even at the high levels of vaccine coverage that we have now achieved, will bring the effective reproduction number below 1 such that we will achieve suppression of the disease,” he will add.

“This means that through this coming autumn and winter, possibly in the face of high levels of infection, we will remain dependent upon public understanding and buy-in to the basic public health measures in order to minimise opportunities for this virus to transmit”.

There must also be “clear guidance and communication” on the disease and how risk can be mitigated and “a focus on the importance of rapid self-isolation if symptomatic”, Dr Holohan will say.

A need for employers and employees to understand “the importance of self-isolating when symptomatic” will remain, and a “formal requirement” for masks will continue in healthcare settings, inside shops and on public transport.

The CMO will say there will also be a need for “robust public health surveillance and response capacities, including testing, contact tracing, surveillance and sequencing capacities for Covid-19”.

Dr Holohan will also warn that if the number of Covid patients in hospital rises, this will have “a significant impact on the delivery of non-Covid care”.

Meanwhile, the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) will tell the Oireachtas Health Committee that people in long-term care facilities and older people have a “poorer response” to the first two vaccine doses and their immunity is “more rapidly waning because of their age and underlying medical conditions”.

It will also say that the flu and Covid jabs can be given at the same time or with a gap in between.

In its opening statement to the committee, NIAC writes that the vaccines can be “given at the same time or at any interval apart”.

“This will allow the uptake of both vaccines to be optimised,” it says.

It is also examining the need for a booster Covid shot for those at increased risk of severe Covid-19 disease, other older people and healthcare workers.

It says booster shots may be required if there was an “inadequate” response to the first round of vaccines, if there is a reduction of immunity and if a variant emerges that is resistant to the jab.

It has already recommended booster shots for those aged 12 and older who are immunocompromised with an inadequate response to vaccines, those aged 80 and older and those aged 65 and older living in long-term care facilities.

Visit our Covid-19 vaccine dashboard for updates on the roll out of the vaccination program and the rate of Coronavirus cases Ireland

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