The chief executive of Nursing Homes Ireland, Tadhg Daly, has called for a review of the ban on visitors to nursing homes because the “vast, vast majority” of residents have received the second dose of the vaccine.
Indoor visits were critical for the wellbeing of residents, he told RTÉ radio’s. There needed to be a balance between the risk from visits and the wellbeing of residents.
There were a number of measures that could be taken to set the groundwork for a return of visits, he said, such as infection control, antigen testing, PPE and vaccinating visitors. All of these needed to be done incrementally so there could be a gradual return to visits.
Ireland should mirror what had been done in Scotland, Mr Daly said. All new admissions to nursing homes from hospitals should be tested and they should be vaccinated prior to admission or at the earliest opportunity.
Infectious diseases expert Dr Paddy Mallon said there was a risk/balance issue here, and the risk factor would have to be lowered before visits could be allowed.
A suite of measures would have to be introduced before this could be done, contingent on getting approval from Nphet. “There is still some way to go,” he said.
Antigen testing could form part of that suite of measures, he added. The technology was getting better with regard to sensitivity of testing, the cost and rapidity of results. Every available technology should be used to reduce the risk of transmission.
Dr Mallon said 2020 had been "the year of lockdown" while 2021 would "be the year of vaccines and variants" and everything should be done to protect the vaccination programme and to avoid the introduction of new variants into the country through international travel.
Ultimately, the solution was a global vaccination programme – “It’s the only way to get control of the virus.”