New restrictions ‘may be required’ in the future says Holohan, despite very high Covid-19 vaccine uptake

Self-isolation, mask wearing and contact tracing to remain in winterFurther 1,181 cases of Covid-19 confirmed today

Dr Tony Holohan

Gabija Gataveckaite

Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Tony Holohan has warned that new restrictions cannot be ruled out and “may be required in the future”.

Dr Holohan has said that “rapid” self-isolation, mask wearing and robust testing and contact tracing will remain in the autumn and winter, despite very high levels of Covid-19 vaccine uptake.

In a letter to TDs and senators, Dr Holohan said vaccines on their own will not bring down the reproductive ‘R’ number below 1 this autumn and winter due to the Delta variant.

He said this will mean there will remain a need for public health measures to remain throughout the coming months.

There will remain a need for rapid self-isolation if symptomatic, mask wearing in healthcare settings, indoor retail, and public transport and “robust public health surveillance and response capacities, including testing, contact tracing, surveillance and sequencing capacities for Covid-19,” he said.

“In the context of this highly transmissible variant, it is unlikely that vaccination alone, even at the high levels of vaccine coverage that we have now achieved, will bring the effective reproduction number below 1 such that we will achieve suppression of the disease,” he wrote in his opening statement to the Oireachtas Health Committee.

“This means that through this coming autumn and winter, possibly in the face of high levels of infection, we will remain dependent upon public understanding and buy-in to the basic public health measures in order to minimise opportunities for this virus to transmit”.

Dr Holohan also warned that new restrictions cannot be ruled out and “may be required” in the future.

“We cannot predict with certainty the future trajectory of the disease and, consequently, we cannot fully rule out the possibility that the reintroduction of measures may be required in the future.

“We must continue to ensure our response is agile and flexible, with an ability to pivot rapidly and respond to any emerging threat,” he added.

He said there must be clear guidance and communication” on the disease and how risk can be mitigated and “a focus on the importance of rapid self-isolation if symptomatic”.

He also said there will remain a need for a employers and employees to understand “the importance of self-isolating when symptomatic” and that this is facilitated.

Dr Holohan said “formal requirement” for masks will remain in healthcare settings, inside shops and on public transport.

Current Government guidance states that masks will remain mandatory in these three categories past October 22, when all other restrictions will be lifted.

The CMO said there will also be a need for a “robust public health surveillance and response capacities, including testing, contact tracing,

surveillance and sequencing capacities for Covid-19”.

Dr Holohan added that the burden of the pandemic has meant that hospitals remain “in a challenging position”.

He said that if Covid patients in hospital rise, this will have “a significant impact on the delivery of non-Covid care”.

It comes as a further 1,181 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed today.

The Department of Health said 309 people were in hospital, of which 60 are in ICU.

Meanwhile, the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) has said that people in long term care facilities and older people have a “poorer response” to the first two vaccine doses and their immunity is “more rapidly waning because of their age and underlying medical conditions”.

It has also said that the flu and Covid jabs can be given at the same time or with a gap in between.

In its opening statement to the Oireachtas Health Committee, Niac said that the vaccines can be “given at the same time or at any interval apart”.

“This will allow the uptake of both vaccines to be optimised,” Niac said.

Niac is also examining the need for a booster Covid shot for those at increased risk of severe Covid-19 disease, other older people and healthcare workers.

It said that booster shots may be required if there was an “inadequate” response to the first round of vaccines, if there is a reduction of immunity and if a variant emerges which is resistant to the jab.

It has already recommended booster shots for those aged 12 and older who are immunocompromised with an inadequate response to vaccines, those aged 80 and older, and those aged 65 and older living in long-term care facilities.

Both Niac and the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) are due to appear before TDs and Senators tomorrow morning at the Oireachtas Health Committee.