The head of the HSE has said people must not drop their guards in terms of Covid-19 precautions out of "frustration or confusion" over the controversy around politicians gathering at the Merrion Hotel.
Confusion reigned this week when advice from the Attorney General indicated some outdoor gatherings are permitted despite the public thinking this is not the case. This followed news of a gathering at the Merrion Hotel held by former minister Katherine Zappone.
HSE chief executive Paul Reid said the vast majority of eligible people will have at least their first dose by late August or early September. But in the meantime, he urged the public to stick to the guidelines.
Answering questions on the potential impact of the Merrion Hotel gathering, he said: “The only cause of concern we would have is if people drop their guard in the next few weeks out of frustration or confusion. The message from the HSE is please just stick with this. In a few weeks time we will be on a much better side of this pandemic.
“My call to the public is don’t get confused, don’t get frustrated, just stick with what we are doing, it’s working.”
He sidestepped a question on whether the issue makes his job harder, saying his key message remains: “Don’t get distracted, let’s get through this for the next few weeks.”
At the same briefing, HSE lead on contact tracing and testing Niamh O’Beirne said public health doctors have reported infections from outdoor gatherings.
She said it is really important for anyone with symptoms not to attend sporting events or other outdoor events, even if they have been vaccinated.
Speaking about Communions, she said: “They have been consistently a problem throughout the pandemic when they did take place.” She said gatherings after the ceremonies have been reported as infection sources.
Ms O'Beirne revealed there were more than 385,000 Covid-19 tests done in July, the highest monthly total in the pandemic.
However, she said the number of positive cases is trending below even the optimistic scenarios modelled by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet).
She described the case growth as “a slow rise” and said this could mean a lower peak than the modelling scenario of 3,000 daily cases by the end of August.
Chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry reassured the public the vaccines are having a significant impact on illness rates. Overall he said the numbers of people with Covid-19 who are ill enough to need hospitalisation is falling.
He said: “In the past six weeks, 94% of ICU admissions with Covid-19 have been in unvaccinated (78%) people, or partially vaccinated (16%).”
However, Mr Reid also said some hospitals are extremely busy with non-Covid care, saying three hospitals had to cancel elective surgeries for patients over the past week.
He said this is “a very busy August” and that attendances at hospital emergency departments are running at 20% above the levels seen in 2019.
Over 90% of the HSE computer systems are now back online following the devastating cyberattack in May, and he said work continues to address patient waiting list back-logs.
Parents urged to get children and teens vaccinated
A senior HSE official has appealed to parents of children and young teens to get them vaccinated, saying the benefits outweigh the risks.
Chief clinical officer Colm Henry said experts spent a long time analysing the facts and evidence before issuing advice to the Government about vaccinating children.
Asked about vaccine hesitancy among parents, Mr Henry said the focus of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) has been on what is in the children's best interest.
"Niac took a long time over this, they took a long time looking at evidence. They said they deliberated a long time over it," Mr Henry said.
"The advice, in the document, is what is in their best interest, and while there are societal benefits to having the population vaccinated, the advice was based on what are the risks and benefits.
"Taking everything into account, taking the disruption, even mild illness, the psychosocial and educational, the benefits weighed towards getting the vaccine."