Covid-19 "extinguished" in the community, but acute phase could last for "years" 1 week ago

Covid-19 "extinguished" in the community, but acute phase could last for "years"

The committee met for two hours this morning.

Dr Tony Holohan has told the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 Response that Ireland has effectively extinguished the virus from the community in general, but Jim Breslin has also warned Ireland could be in the acute stage of the virus "for years".

Chief Medical Officer Dr Holohan and Mr. Breslin, Secretary General of the Department of Health, appeared in front of the committee for a two-hour question and answer session this morning.

Despite the limited nature of the committee, with Deputies allowed five minutes speaking time (including answers) and the first twenty minutes of the meeting in private session, a number of key issues were addressed.

In their respective opening statements, Mr. Breslin informed the committee that Ireland had put together an "unprecedented response to an unprecedented emergency", while Dr Holohan said he welcomed the opportunity to explain Ireland's response to date. The CMO also referenced that they had undertaken 52 press conferences to date to explain the response to the public.

In regards to testing, which featured heavily in the questioning, Mr. Breslin said that Ireland's testing system had been "patched together" and needed to be "redesigned from end to end". Ireland now has capacity for over 100,000 tests a week, but that is not yet being fully used. That is expected to change in the coming weeks as primary contacts of confirmed cases will now be tested rather than being asked to self-isolate.

Responding to questioning from Sinn Féin's Louise O'Reilly, Dr Holohan said "we can be confident" of a turnaround time from swab to the end of contact tracing of 72 hours.

Nursing homes, which now account for 54.5% of all Covid-19 deaths in the Republic of Ireland, also featured prominently. In particular, David Cullinane of Sinn Féin questioned Dr Holohan about visitation to nursing homes and the role it played in the transmission of the virus among these settings.

Deputy Cullinane said that Nursing Homes Ireland imposed nationwide restrictions on visitation on 4 March (actually 6 March), which would account for 80% of all nursing homes in the country. Speaking publicly on 10 March, Dr Holohan said that these measures should not be in place, and he commented in the committee today about groups making unilateral decisions not based on public health advice.

However, on 11 March, Dr Holohan says there was a change in their assessment of the disease. The following day, restrictions on visits to nursing homes, hospitals, mental health facilities and prisons were announced. Dr Holohan insisted in the Dáil today it was not possible that the outbreak in nursing homes was related to this decision, and that Ireland implemented this ban much earlier than most nations.

The takeover by the state of private hospitals was also questioned, with TDs pointing to the €115 million per month contract and that only 30% of private beds were currently being used. Jim Breslin said that the nature of the contract will be examined this month, but that the current understanding of the virus requires a preparedness for other waves of infection.

The committee has two further sitting this afternoon, with HSE management due in the afternoon sitting before the construction industry takes the focus in the final instalment.