Philip Nolan: Reopening of schools 'not connected' to rise in Covid-19 cases

Philip Nolan: Reopening of schools 'not connected' to rise in Covid-19 cases

Professor Philip Nolan, Chair of the Nphet Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group said a number of factors are behind the recent sure in infection. Picture: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

The “delicate balance” between Covid-19 and vaccinations is tipping the wrong way this week, but it is not inevitable this will lead to a huge surge of infections.

That is according to Professor Philip Nolan, head of the Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group under the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet).

Posting on social media on Saturday, he said there are many complex reasons why cases are rising, but called on the public to re-commit to public health measures to combat the rise.

“We can’t know what will happen over the coming weeks,” he said.

“This could prove to be a transient, or renewed and sustained growth in infections. We do know from past experience that when cases rise, people become more cautious and limit the spread.” 

He said there are actions people can take including being more aware of ventilation in buildings.

“We can support and encourage those not yet fully vaccinated to reconsider that choice,” he said.

“And we can support and encourage each other on the basics: self-isolate if symptomatic, masks, hand and respiratory hygiene , distance and avoid crowding, ventilation.” 

However, Prof Nolan said there is no evidence the rise is linked to schools.

“We do not believe it is connected to the reopening of schools,” he said.

“The incidence in schoolchildren was decreasing, and less than that in August prior to the reopening of schools despite higher levels of testing.” 

Many people have asked why Ireland’s infection rate is so high compared to much of Europe even though the vaccination rate here is higher.

“We started at a disadvantage compared to most of Western Europe,” Prof Nolan said.

“We were hit by a very large wave of delta infections in July, with most of the population under 50 not yet vaccinated, driving daily cases from 300 to 1800 per day between June and August.” 

That wave began decreasing when vaccines reached the 18 to 30-year-olds. Prof Nolan said this unfortunately stabilised at a still-high rate.

“However, this left us in a vulnerable position,” he said. 

“With high levels of infection, and that delicate balance between very high levels of vaccine protection on the one hand, and increasing levels of social contact and risk of transmission on the other.” 

Prof Nolan said these high figures indicate this has tipped the wrong way.

He said: “Even a subtle change in the scale or nature of social contact can significantly shift the dynamics of viral transmission in the population” due to the high levels of virus.

He pointed to evidence from the ESRI Social Activity Measure and mobility data showing social contacts are increasing. 

Prof Nolan's comments came as another 2,180 cases of the virus were confirmed in Ireland. 

The number of people in intensive care units is 71, down two on yesterday. There are 406 people being treated for the virus, down seven.

Earlier, the HSE's Dr Colm Henry said he would be comfortable for nightclubs to reopen provided that entry was reserved for those with proof of vaccination or have recently recovered from the Covid-19.

The Chief Clinical Officer said that thanks to a “vaccine floodwall” the country is in a better position than during previous surges.

Cabinet is due to sign off on the reopening plan on Tuesday ahead of the planned lifting of restrictions on Friday, October 22, with some questions emerging about vaccine certificates, mask-wearing and capacity at indoor events.

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