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Nphet warning Work from home message needs to be reinforced to help drive down coronavirus numbers

14-year-old becomes youngest person in Ireland to die with Covid

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Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan. Photo: Collins Photos

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan. Photo: Collins Photos

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan. Photo: Collins Photos

The Government is coming under pressure to issue a new ‘work from home’ message after Nphet issued fresh advice to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly last night.

It comes as health officials reported that a 14-year-old had died with Covid-19 in the past week, the youngest in Ireland so far. Previously, the youngest person to have died with the disease was aged 17 and the oldest 105. The HPSC reported 25 deaths in the week to November 9.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) is urging people to work from home where possible in a bid to get “dangerously high” Covid-19 case numbers under control.

This is despite Mr Donnelly saying earlier the Government was not actively considering a return to working from home full-time.

“In terms of regulation or Government policy, that is not something we are looking at,” Mr Donnelly said yesterday.

However, in a letter to the minister last night, Nphet recommended strengthening and reinforcing a whole range of public health messaging over the coming weeks.

Employees should be encouraged to work from home where possible and feasible, while recognising some workplaces remain open.

In those circumstances, employers should be encouraged to have protective measures in the workplace, Nphet is advising.

The fresh public health advice follows a meeting of Nphet to discuss the deteriorating Covid-19 situation.

It is understood Nphet’s recommendations give the Government enough leeway to make the final decision on working from home with the Cabinet sub-committee on Covid-19, which is not due to meet until early next week.

Public health officials will meet again in two weeks’ time to assesses if the reinforced messaging has had any impact on driving down case numbers amid growing concern about the force of infections in the community at present.

“The bottom line here is essentially the need to double down on making the messages clearer and reinforcing them,” a senior public health source said, adding that case numbers are “dangerously high”.

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Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath told the Dáil yesterday all employees, including those fully vaccinated, should work from home unless required to be in the workplace.

In a written answer to Aontú TD Peadar Tóibín, Mr McGrath said: “In line with public health advice, a cautious and careful return to workplaces should take into account appropriate attendance levels, with the use of staggered arrangements such as non-full time attendance and flexible working hours.”

Nphet is not advising any new formal social or economic restrictions but is advising the Government to strengthen current public health messaging. This will include emphasising advice for people to reduce their discretionary contacts, self-isolating and getting a Covid-19 test if they have symptoms and encouraging people to wear masks properly, with mask-wearing enforced where necessary.

Mr Donnelly also said the Government was not considering extending the vaccine pass system to other areas of the economy beyond pubs and restaurants, after chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said on Wednesday he would be in favour of such a move.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he did not see Ireland returning to lockdown for Christmas, but booster jabs would be important, along with testing and tracing, including antigen tests.

“I don’t see Christmas lockdowns but we may have to imaginatively look at how we behave and manage events and so on like that,” he told Today FM’s Dermot & Dave.

Mr Martin said he did not see a dramatic return to restrictions but that the high cases were “concerning”.

HSE chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said people should reduce their social contacts by half in the coming weeks.

“We are worried, not just about the hospital system, but the whole healthcare system is severely stretched now and under strain right through from our testing and tracing system, which is now testing huge numbers per day because there’s lot of seasonal viruses going around at the minute that mimic Covid-19,” he told RTÉ’s Drivetime.

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