HSE boss sounds note of caution amid promising studies into Omicron severity
"There's early evidence. We'd all cling to the hope of it. Equally, what we do know is that it is a highly transmissible virus."
HSE CEO Paul Reid has responded to new studies that suggest people who contract the Omicron variant of Covid-19 are less likely to be hospitalised than those with the Delta strain.
On Wednesday, researchers at the University of Edinburgh published data that argues a two-thirds reduction in the risk of Covid-19 hospitalisation with Omicron when directly compared to Delta.
A separate study from London's Imperial College shows similar results, with researchers presenting evidence of a 40% to 45% lower risk of hospitalisation where the Omicron variant is concerned.
"Overall, we find evidence of a reduction in the risk of hospitalisation for Omicron relative to Delta infections, averaging over all cases in the study period," said the Imperial College team.
Speaking on Morning Ireland on RTÉ Radio 1 on Thursday, Paul Reid said that there has been a notable acceleration in the positivity rate in Covid test results throughout Ireland.
The positivity level is currently at 21%, with Reid expecting a further rise in the days to come.
"[The studies arrive] at a time when we all want hope," he said.
"This is the time of the year we all expect it. Certainly, the couple of studies – there's one from the University of Edinburgh published yesterday – there's always a few qualifiers in all of this.
"First of all, Omicron only has emerged in South Africa since November 21st so it's really early days in terms of the evidence around all of this. But certainly the study from the University of Edinburgh – a couple of key findings from it; firstly – [the] potential towards reduction and risk of hospitalisation.
"The concern from us – and while we'd all hope that there is the evidence – the concern is purely just the volume," Reid explained.
"If we are dealing with the volume of case loads and we're still dealing with a percentage of a much higher volume of hospitalised; that will put severe strain on us overall on the health system and still more people becoming ill."
Reid went on to argue that the booster vaccine rollout is likely playing a strong part in combating the new variant.
"The positivity coming from that study, also, was the third booster demonstrating that it offers substantial protection against risk of symptomatic illness," he said.
"So, [there are] certainly positive indicators that we would hope [are correct] – but equally there are studies showing that this is five-and-a-half times more transmissible than Delta, which is a highly transmissible.
"There's early evidence. We'd all cling to the hope of it. But, equally, what we do know [is that it is a] highly transmissible virus."
Speaking on Wednesday, Reid urged the public to "be kind" to healthcare staff during a critical period, both over Christmas and beyond.
"Whether you're attending a vaccination centre for your booster or a testing centre for your PCR swab or indeed one of our healthcare settings, please be kind to our healthcare staff," he said.
"They are under significant pressure at this point in time. I'd like to point that our hospitals are there if you need urgent care.
"They will continue to be there if you need urgent care, but they will be extremely busy, and there will be delayed times over Christmas and the New Year period."
Featured Image of Paul Reid via Leah Farrell / RollingNews.ie