Leaving the house with symptoms of Covid-19 should be seen in the same socially unacceptable light as drink driving, Prof Philip Nolan of Nphet has said.
It is “dangerous” to leave the house with flu-like symptoms and people need to err on the side of caution, the head of Nphet’s modelling advisory group said.
“Leaving your home with Covid-like or flu-like symptoms has to become socially unacceptable in the same way that drink driving has become socially unacceptable. It is dangerous now for people to mix if one of them has any kind of symptoms and we really need to err on the side of caution here and we’re better off staying at home, if you have anything that suggests you have this disease.
“You could infect that unvaccinated person, the one-in-ten, potentially, in your workplace even though you’re vaccinated, if you feel sick with this,” Prof Nolan said on RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne.
Prof Nolan said public health doctors are seeing that people who have symptoms but are vaccinated are saying. “well, it couldn’t be Covid”.
“If you have symptoms, presume it’s Covid or presume it’s any respiratory virus and you do not want to transmit Covid or any virus right now in society.
“There’s a real concern that those measures, and in particular the measure of isolating if you have symptoms, may be slipping and that has pushed us to the wrong side of the knife-edge,” Prof Nolan said.
Prof Nolan said there is real concern that there is “genuine growth” of the virus once again as positivity rates rise even though more people are being tested.
“This is a leading indicator that things are going in the wrong direction.
“To be honest, we are worried, given the positivity rates, that we’re seeing genuine growth once again. Cases are growing at 2pc per day and hospitalisations are growing at 2.4pc per day,” the Nphet member said.
This comes as unvaccinated people, which account for roughly 10pc of people eligible for a vaccine, make up half of all Covid-19 hospital admissions, the HSE has said.
There are approximately 300,000 adults that are completely unvaccinated and 70,000 partially vaccinated and these people are being hospitalised in far greater proportions, Anne O’Connor, Chief Operations Officer of the HSE said.
“The numbers are disproportionate in terms of those that are unvaccinated. About 10pc of the adult population are unvaccinated and they are currently driving 50pc of our admissions so even though it’s a much lower percentage, it’s a higher number of people coming to hospital that are sick,” Ms O’Connor said on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.
The COO said that two-thirds of people in ICUs with Covid are unvaccinated. There are currently 408 Covid-19 patients in hospital, the highest since early March.
Case numbers are up by 43pc on the previous week and health officials are seeing a rise in the 14-day incidence across all age groups.
This comes as the Government is bracing for a delay in the removal of the final Covid-19 restrictions following a sudden change in the behaviour of the virus that is causing alarm among senior health officials.
More than 2,000 new cases were reported last night and senior figures from Nphet informed government officials of concerns over the rise in the number of tests carried out, the positivity rate and hospitalisations in recent days.
It is unclear whether the change in the trajectory of the virus is temporary or evidence of a more sustained step change, with officials to assess more data in the coming days.
The HSE’s national lead on testing and tracing, Niamh O’Beirne, told the Irish Independent that the downward trend in the virus had reversed last Wednesday and said there had been a noticeable increase in the referral of older people for testing.
A quarter of all cases are in people 18 or younger and two-thirds of recent cases are in people under 44.
“What’s important for us is the number of people that become very sick and we know that the vaccine will reduce the number of people that will become very sick.
“The reality is for us that the sicker people become, the greater demands that are placed on the health service.
“We’re heading into the winter period which would always place strain on the health service but this year we are seeing a very high number of people attending our emergency departments. Even compared to 2019, attendance figures are up 25pc,” Ms O’Connor said.
There were less than 100 beds available across the entire health service last night and various hospitals around the country are experiencing severe overcrowding with 6,500 people admitted to hospitals in the last week.
UHL, CUH and Galway University Hospital are particularly strained, Ms O’Connor said.
An impending flu season will add even more strain on the health service and the COO pleaded to unvaccinated people to get a Covid-19 vaccine, as it brings down the risk they will be hospitalised if they contract the virus.
Christine Loscher, a professor of immunology at DCU has said the rise in cases can somewhat be attributed to the change in people’s behaviour in recent weeks as vaccination levels approach 90pc.
“We’re mixing more. We’ve seen recently from countries such as New Zealand that has done well with Covid, that Delta is so hard to contain. It’s much more transmissible and people have moved indoors as the weather is colder and we have seen that our behaviour has changed.
“As Ronan Glynn pointed out yesterday, we still have a very high number of people that still aren’t vaccinated,” Dr Loscher told the same programme.
The immunology professor said Ireland should still press on with the proposed opening despite rising cases.
“I do think we need to continue with the lifting of restrictions. Our case numbers have gone up and that was to be expected. I think in the last few weeks, with October 22 very close, people have started to change their behaviour a little bit more to align what will happen on October 22.
“I do think that everything we do is about mitigating risk. We can’t get rid of Delta, New Zealand has proved that.
“One factor in place that mitigates risk and we should think about keeping is the vaccine certs. De-risking the opening of other indoor settings by keeping vaccine certs. I think that will probably go a long way to minimising the risk of opening up but I don’t think we should not open the venues that we’ve committed to opening up.
“We’re already mixing a lot and people are socialising again,” Prof Loscher said.
Prof Loscher said that if people are vaccinated and they contract Covid-19 this year, the “wall of vaccination” means they will likely contract a mild form of the illness akin to “a severe cold”.