Cancelling Christmas socialising plans a ‘responsible decision’ says Republic’s medical chief

Cancelling plans to socialise in the run-up to Christmas would be a “responsible decision”, the Irish chief medical officer has said.

Wednesday, 17th November 2021, 3:33 pm
Updated Wednesday, 17th November 2021, 4:49 pm

Dr Tony Holohan said there could be 200,000 Covid-19 infections in December, but this could be prevented.

He said workplaces would have to decide if office Christmas parties should go ahead.

“People are making these kinds of decisions as ways of reducing their own risk and ways of reducing the risk to their loved ones and their friends and family and so on,” he said, when asked if people should cut down on socialising.

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“These are responsible decisions. Decisions that nobody wants to be taking it this time of the year, of course.

“We all understand the value of Christmas, particularly in this country.

“To me, those are responsible decisions now that people are making.”

Dr Holohan said the same reasoning should apply to office Christmas parties.

Turkey with side items

He told RTE News at One: “An organisation, looking at itself and looking at the kinds of measures that it now needs to take, when we’re advising people to stay at home as much as possible and work from home, those would be responsible decisions, if they were to be taken.”

The CMO said he understood this was difficult for people to hear, but warned that Nphet modelling projects there could be more than 200,000 cases of Covid-19 next month.

“What we’re trying to prevent is potentially 200,000 – maybe double that – people over the course of the month of December picking up this infection,” he said.

“I stress, none of those people are infected yet.

“If we have 200,000 people infected in December, 4,000 of them will end up in hospital at Christmas.

“We will see 200,000 people being asked to self-isolate over the Christmas period, where they can’t meet up with or shouldn’t meet up with friends, family or anybody else that are important to them.

“These are huge impacts that will be placed on the population at this time of the year, if we don’t find it within ourselves to improve our collective adherence.

“And so, taking those measures around workplaces, to my mind would be very simple measures to cut down discretionary social contact.”

Education Minister Norma Foley urged parents not to organise birthday parties or play dates for their children in the coming weeks.

She said the chief medical officer had said “very clearly that we need to minimise our social interactions”.

She added: “We have seen the return to play dates and birthday parties and things like that.

“I think there’s a call now that we would minimise (that) and we would draw down again and revert to what we have done in the past.”

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has confirmed antigen testing will not be free, saying the Government is planning to subsidise the cost.

A single test usually costs around eight euro, which Mr Donnelly admitted is not affordable for everyone as people will be expected to take multiple tests.

The Government has announced fresh measures to address a worrying rise in Covid-19 cases, which has left Ireland’s health system under severe pressure heading into the winter.

They include more general use of antigen testing, particularly for people who socialise more often.

Earlier this year, the Government’s chief scientific adviser Professor Mark Ferguson published a report in which he recommended the introduction of rapid tests.

Mr Donnelly defended the speed of the Government’s response to the report, saying thousands of tests are sent to people who are deemed close contacts, higher education settings, nursing homes and childcare settings.

He told RTE Morning Ireland: “One of the things we’re doing right now, we’re just finalising it, is reducing the price. So there’ll be subsidised tests available, but I think we have to go further than that.

“We need very clear communications for people on how to use them because they do have a role to play.

“They’ve an important role to play. There’s no silver bullet, be it boosters or antigen testing or anything.”

He said the final details on subsidising the antigen tests will be worked out soon.

“It’s not going to be cheap to do,” he said. “The initial figures I have are that it could be several hundred million euro.

“The advice I have is that they shouldn’t be free. They had them free in the UK and the government came under huge criticism from Parliament for that because essentially there were no controls on how they were being used at all.

“They’re very, very expensive. So every time you subsidise an antigen test, it’s money you’re not spending on a nurse, you’re not spending on a doctor.”

The Government on Tuesday agreed that pubs, nightclubs and restaurants in Ireland will have a midnight closing time from Thursday. Residents of hotels will be exempt.

People will also be urged to work from home from Friday, if they can.

Mr Donnelly said there are no plans to extend any of the financial measures, including the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP).

He also said further restrictions cannot be ruled out.

Asked if Ireland is heading for another lockdown, Mr Donnelly said no-one could answer that question.

The Fianna Fail minister said the impact of the new restrictions is expected to take effect in three weeks.