The head of the HSE has insisted that Ireland’s Covid future remains “in our own hands” as case numbers and close contacts continue to rise across the country.
At a briefing to launch the executive’s €600m Winter Plan, HSE CEO Paul Reid said that “those decisions are not inevitable”, regarding the suggestion that Ireland is two weeks from another lockdown.
“We need to make sure the public realise that it’s still in our own hands. Just cut your contacts to an absolute minimum,” he said.
“Take a step back, wear your mask, and cleanse your hands relentlessly,” he said.
“It’s far too early to say,” whether or not a further lockdown will be necessary, said Colm Henry, the HSE’s chief clinical officer.
He stressed that while the rest of the country is indeed two weeks behind the capital, the situation elsewhere is complex. “The pattern in other counties is different to Dublin, it’s more dispersed geographically.” He added that any consideration of a second lockdown would need to reflect “on the impact of lockdown on older generations”.
The briefing heard that Ireland has now passed one million tests completed for the virus, with just under 98,000 swab tests completed last week alone. Testing turnaround time is now 2.2 days.
Some 110 people were hospitalised for the illness between September 8 and September 21, 15 of whom were admitted to intensive care.
Mr Reid said that the number of close contacts per infected person is now six, where it had been two recently.
More than 11,000 contact tracing calls were made last week, he said. He namechecked both Beaumont and the Mater hospitals in Dublin as institutions which are now running close to capacity, saying that the difference between lockdown and now is that the HSE is operating all normal services also in addition to its Covid work.
“We are heading into a winter like no other,” Mr Reid said. He implored people to “please protect the health service this winter by continuously protecting yourself”.
He reserved more positive words for the Covid Tracker app, which he said is now being used by 1.3m people and has been responsible for 1,000 cases of the virus uploading their contacts, leading to “a significant number of cases being caught by the app that wouldn't otherwise have been recorded".
He added that the app’s template is now to be used free of charge by Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the US states of Pennsylvania and Delaware.
The HSE has succeeded meanwhile in securing the same quantity of flu vaccine as last year, Mr Reid said, in light of the news delivery of the vaccine is set to be delayed by a number of weeks.
This year will be the first in which children have been targeted for the vaccine, with 750,000 young people aged between 2 and 12 to be eligible to receive the shot from early October.