HSE: Reducing social distancing would 'significantly' increase hospital capacity

Reducing our social distancing rule from two metres to one could see the rate of transmission quadruple, according to a leading health expert.
HSE: Reducing social distancing would 'significantly' increase hospital capacity

Update: The HSE has said reducing social distancing limits would "significantly" increase hospital capacity.

Yesterday, the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the two-metre rule remained the same.

It comes as some Cabinet Ministers are reportedly backing a reduction to one metre, in line with World Health Organisation guidelines.

The issue is expected to be raised between Ministers and the Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan at a meeting next week.

HSE CEO, Paul Reid, said they will follow the Government's advice.

Mr Reid said: "Two metres will reduce the volume that we could have attending at a particular time, but we'd have to work off what the current guidance is and the current guidance is two metres.

"There's no doubt one metre would certainly give us significant extra capacity in terms of managing our out-patients departments and managing our Emergency Departments or generally managing our services, but we'll be guided by what current guidance is from Government through NPHET."

Earlier: Halving social distancing could quadruple Covid-19 transmission, says disease specialist

Reducing our social distancing rule from two metres to one could see the rate of transmission quadruple, according to a leading health expert.

Some ministers raised the issue at Cabinet on Friday and it is expected to be brought up again when they meet the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Tony Holohan, next week.

The World Health Organisation says one metre is sufficient.

However, infectious disease specialist at the Royal College of Surgeons, Professor Sam McConkey, said reducing our guidelines could have a big impact.

Prof. McConkey said: "People think that two metres to one metre, that's just half as much, therefore you might expect things to be perhaps twice as bad because you're half the distance away.

"But the way droplets work, it's often not a simple linear relationship when you're one metre rather than two.

It could be up to four times transmission that takes place when you're up closer because there is a much bigger concentration of droplets.

"Certainly getting physically closer to each other certainly would allow restaurants and bars and so on to function better, and we'd all probably have a better time.

"That would inevitably lead to more transmission of Covid-19... the way droplets and things work often it's not just a simple linear relationship."

He added that the country needs to have a debate about what restrictions to relax first.

Prof. McConkey told Newstalk's On The Record some of those options could include the re-opening of creches and schools, the re-opening of tourism and travel or a relaxing of physical distancing.

"My point is you shouldn't do all three together - we should do these gradually and in a step-wise way.

"And we have to make really important, informed political choices about which parts of our society we should try and get back to normal first.

"That is one political choice that we could make as a nation and say 'yes, we're going to get one metre from each other'.

"But then that would possibly mean that things like getting schools back or getting the airports open and tourists coming again might wait longer.

"You can imagine how different sectors of our economy have vested interests in different of those choices that I've just outlined."

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