What have health officials recently said about gatherings?

What have health officials recently said about gatherings?

Controversy erupted on Wednesday when it was revealed Leo Varadkar attended an outdoor event, organised by Katherine Zappone, of 50 people at the Merrion Hotel. File photo: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

Controversy erupted on Wednesday when it was revealed Leo Varadkar attended an outdoor event, organised by Katherine Zappone, of 50 people at the Merrion Hotel.

Uproar ensued from the public over what they assumed was a breach of public health guidelines.

The Fáilte Ireland guidelines for the reopening of the sector states: “Organised events are currently not permitted.” 

However, the Government later issued a statement claiming advice from the Attorney General says that regulations provide for organised outdoor events and gatherings of up to 200 people, including social, recreational, exercise, cultural, entertainment or community events.

The Government’s own website on outdoor events states: “A maximum of 200 attendees can attend the majority of venues. A limit of 500 people is in place for venues with capacity greater than 5,000 with appropriate protective measures in place - including social distancing requirements.” 

But while the event may have been legally permissible, was it in line with what public health officials have been saying in recent weeks?

On May 30, Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan expressed shock at the "enormous crowds" of people congregating in Dublin city centre.

“This is what we do not need when we have made so much progress,” he said on Twitter.

While the restrictions on socialising and hospitality have lessened significantly since then, the message around avoiding crowds and large gatherings has remained steadfast.

* On June 16, the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) published advice to the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) on the safe return of mass gatherings. 

Its advice states: “In the first instance, any organised mass gatherings should be seated outdoor events that are short in duration with significantly reduced capacity. Small and manageable events should be piloted prior to larger-scale events.” 

* On July 1, deputy chief medical officer, Dr Ronan Glynn, said Nphet advised against communions and confirmations proceeding due to the potential spread, on the basis that families would socialise afterwards.

* Two weeks later, on July 16, Niamh O’Beirne, the HSE’s national lead for test and tracing, warned a large proportion of cases were coming from outdoor social gatherings. “We are seeing more from an outdoor setting. It's groups outdoors. I'm hearing from the tracers things like barbeques, outdoor group dining, outdoor large gatherings of large groups, house parties,” she said. 

"And then things we saw previously which were funerals, weddings, family gatherings and after sports training events."

* On July 21, the Department of Public Health Mid-West urged the people of Limerick, Clare and North Tipperary to “avoid large, high-risk social gatherings as the vaccination programme continues to accelerate”.

* On July 28, Prof. Philip Nolan, chairman of the Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, said the short-term trajectory of the disease remains uncertain and “a lot depends on what we do in moderating our level of social contact”.

* On July 30, Dr Marie Casey, specialist in public health medicine, said: "We ask that you be alert, socialise safely, and prioritise getting a vaccine this weekend."

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