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Workplace return in doubt as Dr Ronan Glynn calls for people to keep working from home this autumn and winter if possible

ISME says remarks about ‘working from home where possible’ may cause confusion ahead of the Nphet meeting next week

People should work from home where possible throughout this autumn and winter, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn has said.

This comes as restrictions on returning to the workplace were supposed to be lifted next Friday, October 22.

There have been 1,914 new cases confirmed to The Health Protection Surveillance Centre this afternoon, as the five-day moving average has increased to 1,685. There are 413 people in hospital with Covid-19, of which 73 are in ICU, up three from yesterday.

In a video address on Friday, the deputy CMO said health officials have seen “a deteriorating picture” over the last 10 days and that most counties were now seeing increased incidence of Covid-19.

Dr Glynn said people are socialising and mixing more than ever and called on people to, “work from home, where possible, over this autumn and winter,” along with abiding by long standing public hygiene measures.

A phased return to the workplace has been in place since September 20.

Employers have been putting plans and safeguards in place as well as beginning the hybrid model in many cases where an employee still works from home some days.

However, the call to work from home where possible came unexpectedly today.

It looks set to throw the plans of many employers into confusion.

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Worryingly, Dr Glynn said, cases are rising across all age groups and the median age for positive cases has risen to 36 from the mid-20s.

“What all of this means is we’re seeing an impact on our hospital system and an increase in the number of hospital admissions. We’re seeing an average of 50 people being admitted to hospital with the virus everyday and five admitted to ICU with the virus per day on average,” Dr Glynn said.

Dr Glynn said the 370,000 adults that are not yet fully vaccinated are, “as vulnerable to Covid now as they were at any time during the pandemic”.

“Their decision not to come forward for vaccination is having a disproportionate impact on them, personally, but also impacting disproportionately on admissions to hospitals and ICU,” Dr Glynn said.

Incidence of the virus is so high that Dr Glynn said people who are vaccinated must also be careful of their behaviour in public and maintain basic hygiene measures.

“There’s enough disease circulating in our communities that a proportion of vaccinated people will get sick with Covid, will end up in hospital and will end up in ICU. We want to avoid that to the greatest extent possible,” Dr Glynn said.

The deputy CMO said it was highly important that if anyone experiences symptoms of Covid-19, they should come forward for a test and then self-isolate.

“Don’t assume it’s not Covid simply because you’ve been vaccinated,” he said.

The Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly is currently isolating at home after developing Covid-like symptoms although he has tested negative.

The advice is to continue to isolate until the symptoms have gone.

Giving her reaction, Patricia King, General Secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions said: “Congress support the Deputy CMO in his urging of everyone who can work from home to do so. We have to continue to be cautious given the levels of transmission and hospitalisation and the unremitting strain on our health workers.

“The social partners met earlier this week to discuss the Return to Work Safely protocol, with Dr Glynn in attendance. A further meeting of the LEEF is scheduled for next week, following the NPHET meeting.

Meanwhile, Neil McDonnell, chief executive of ISME the employers groups said: ”We agree with most of what Dr Glynn said about rising case numbers, but his remarks about ‘working from home where possible’ may cause confusion ahead of the Nphet meeting next week and the planned lifting of other restrictions next weekend.

Mr McDonnell pointed out that the vaccination program has been highly successful.

“Ireland needs to see its vaccine dividend- we have one of the most successful vaccination rollouts in the world.

“As ever, ISME will work within the public health advice, however we would like to see the Deputy CMO endorse other risk mitigation measures such as Antigen testing, which the HSE’s own expert study recommended.”

Questioned on whether the Department of Health has now changed it policy a spokeswoman said the “Work Safety Protocol is the current policy.”

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