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'A dog's dinner' - curbs may not save Christmas

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DCU health systems professor Anthony Staines

DCU health systems professor Anthony Staines

DCU health systems professor Anthony Staines

As Covid infection rates fall, public health experts warn it is impossible to avoid continued restrictions over Christmas if we are to crush the virus.

There were 542 new cases of Covid yesterday with two more deaths reported, according to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HSPC).

Some 181 of the cases were in Dublin, 59 in Donegal, 50 in Limerick, 36 in Cork, 25 in Kildare and the remaining cases were spread across 20 other counties.

As of 2pm yesterday, 283 Covid-19 patients were hospitalised, of whom 39 were in ICU.

There were 13 more hospitalisations in the past 24 hours.

Speaking yesterday, DCU health systems professor Anthony Staines said that although the infection rate is falling, reopening in December will lead us back to another lockdown.

"If we continue with an aggressive programme to control this virus we could eliminate circulation of Covid by January, and we could have our economy back by February.

"If we don't, what will happen is cases will go down by November and the first couple of weeks of December and then start ticking up.

"Christmas socialisation is important and it matters, but the more virus there is circulating when we do it, the riskier it is.

"Probably in February we will be back where we are now."

Prof Staines criticised the national response in terms of establishing effective contact tracing.

He said although Christmas will be difficult for politicians to manoeuvre, "the Government is there to provide leadership".

"Europe has made a dog's breakfast out of this. Europe is a disaster area," he added.

Failed

"Nigeria's public health department has less money than the Dublin public health department and it has managed to control the virus."

Junior Minister Robert Troy yesterday failed to provide any clarity, saying the situation would be kept "under review".

"I can't honestly say here today, in terms of what's going to happen at Christmas.

"Only to say that the Government with Nphet, with the public health advice, are keeping the situation under constant review to ensure that we can open up the economy as much as possible in December, and to ensure that we can have as good a Christmas as possible."

Dr Nuala O'Connor, the Irish College of General Practitioners' lead adviser on Covid-19, said the focus this year will be on a "safe" Christmas.

"I think we've all got to think carefully as a society how we're going to manage Christmas this year.

"What we have to do is try and focus on how we can have Christmas but in a safer manner.

"We know now how to get these virus numbers down and how to keep them down and it's really about narrowing the amount of people we meet on a regular basis.

"Yes, Christmas will be a bit different because if we try to have it the normal way, if there's too much getting together of people in closed, crowded, poorly ventilated indoor spaces, that's exactly where this virus loves to spread."

Nphet chairman Cillian De Gascun said at the weekend the advice body was considering introducing a limit on the number of close contacts people will be allowed at Christmas.

Sinn Féin TD Kathleen Funchion said the Government had to provide more clarity to allow people to plan for the festive season.

Restrict

"People were told for the last number of weeks that they had to go into Level 5 to sort of save Christmas. Now we're seeing that it's going to be very restricted anyway.

"But there does need to be a lot more in terms of planning and telling people what exactly it's going to look like if they are going to restrict people in relation to Christmas and Christmas visits."

Meanwhile, figures show that there has now been a total of 1,947 Covid-19 related deaths in Ireland.


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