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Covid situation could get worse due to socialising over Christmas holidays say Dr Tony Holohan

The pandemic remains to cause a huge strain on the health system

Seoirse Mulgrew

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan has said the Covid situation could deteriorate further depending on the levels of socialising over the Christmas period.

In a letter to Health Minister, Stephen Donnelly following a meeting of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), Dr Holohan said that there is still a huge strain on the health system, and the high number of cases could lead to more severe disease over the coming weeks.

He said “the overall epidemiological situation is concerning. Ireland remains vulnerable to a further deterioration in the disease profile depending on a number of factors, including levels of social contact in the coming weeks and over the festive period, adherence to basic public health protective measures and levels of immunity across the population”.

“The number of confirmed cases in ICU and requiring mechanical ventilation is also high. Given the recent trajectory in terms of the disease profile, these indicators of severe disease may increase further in the coming weeks and will require ongoing close monitoring,” Dr Holohan wrote.

"Deaths per day are increasing very slowly at approximately 7 per day, or 200 deaths per month. This may increase, given the very high case counts, though booster vaccination in older persons may mitigate against this.

“There continues to be a significant number of outbreaks reported in settings with vulnerable populations. said the incidence of Covid-19 is highest in those aged five to 12 years," he added.

Testing rates are very high in those aged 12 and under, at approximately 800 tests per 100,000 children per day.

A total of 31,109 cases have been reported in the seven days.

Dr Holohan recommended that indoor gatherings for children should under 12 be avoided for “at least” two weeks.

In a letter to the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly, Dr Holohan outlined the latest Nphet recommendations.

“For at least the next two weeks, indoor community gatherings should be avoided for children aged 12 and younger; examples of which include communions or similar events, nativity performances, and other comparable indoor seasonal events.

“In addition, sleepovers and indoor birthday parties and playdates should be avoided, although they later may take place outdoors and should ideally be kept to small numbers.

Dr Holohan has also recommended the wearing of face masks for children aged nine years and older on public transport and in indoor settings.

“Nphet recommends subject to the development of appropriate guidance the wearing of face masks by children aged nine years and over on public transport, in retail and other indoor public settings as currently required for those aged 13 and over, with exemptions as appropriate,” he said.

Dr Holohan also emphasised the importance of a continued focus on the extension of the Covid cert to all settings where there is high risk of transmission, through close contact or other activities.

He also wants to see the acceleration of the vaccine booster programme and the need for continued efforts to increase vaccine uptake in marginalised and hard to reach groups.

National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) has recommended that Covid-19 booster shots can be given to everyone over the age of 16.

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