Some Nphet members expressed ‘reservations’ about reopening of nightclubs, but were overruled

Public health experts presented optimistic and pessimistic scenarios to ministers
Chief medical officer Tony Holohan

Chief medical officer Tony Holohan

Philip Ryan and Hugh O’Connell

Members of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) had raised serious concerns about easing restrictions for the hospitality sector including reopening nightclubs.

At a Nphet meeting before the easing of restrictions for bars, nightclubs and other live entertainment venues, a number of public health doctors had their reservations about reopening noted, but they were overruled.

Chief medical officer Tony Holohan’s group subsequently gave the green light to drop restrictions on opening hours for bars and allow nightclubs to open on October 22 for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

The minutes for the October 18 meeting noted “a number of members expressed reservations about additional reopening, as it may increase virus transmission notwithstanding updated guidance and other measures proposed.”

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Concerns were expressed it would send the wrong signal to the public and trigger a surge in new cases.

“There was a view that it should not happen, that it should be paused in the public health context,” a source said.

However, the minutes show the majority of members supported the “reopening of the remaining areas of the hospitality, entertainment and night-time” sector.

While there were some differences of opinion, as outlined in the minutes, there was no dissent from the final set of Nphet recommendations to the Government, which said that nightclubs could reopen with protective measures and the “wide and robust implementation” of the Covid-19 pass.

Less than a month later, nightclubs have effectively been closed by the Government’s decision on Tuesday – endorsed by Dr Holohan – to implement a midnight curfew on hospitality, which takes effect from tonight.

At the same Nphet meeting, members raised concerns about the then policy of not testing vaccinated and asymptomatic people who were close contacts of positive cases.

The minutes said members expressed concern that 13pc of close contacts were testing positive, despite being fully vaccinated and asymptomatic.

They said there was potential for this cohort to transmit the virus, especially in healthcare settings, due to the “current policy of not automatically testing asymptomatic fully vaccinated close contacts of confirmed cases”.

On Tuesday, the Government introduced new rules for household close contacts that will require them to restrict their movements for five days while also taking a series of antigen tests.

Meanwhile, just over 2,200 people could be hospitalised with more than 400 requiring critical care in the run-up to Christmas Day, according to Nphet’s most pessimistic scenario in new modelling, presented to the Government this week.

The new modelling shown to the Cabinet sub-committee on Covid-19 on Monday, and seen by the Irish Independent, shows that daily case numbers would peak at over 12,000 in early to mid-December.

However, hospitalisations and critical care admissions would not peak until later in December, closer to Christmas Day, when nearly 2,250 people could be in hospital.

More than 400 patients would require critical care, including more than 200 patients in intensive care units and another 200 plus patients on wards who would require non-invasive ventilation and advanced respiratory support, according to this pessimistic scenario.

The more optimistic scenarios presented to ministers by Nphet’s modelling chief Philip Nolan show daily case numbers peaking at more than 5,000 by the end of November with hospitalisations and critical care admissions peaking at more than 1,000 and more than 200 respectively in early December.

Speaking on RTÉ, Dr Holohan said 400,000 people could be infected before Christmas if current levels of socialising continued.

“What we are trying to prevent is potentially 200,000 or even double that picking up the infection in December,” he said. “None of those people are infected yet. But if we have 200,000 people infected, 4,000 will end up in hospital at Christmas.”

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