Gatherings of four households “just not sure”, warns CMO

Pressure is mounting on the government to intervene on the cost of antigen testing after it announced substantial changes to testing requirements for suspected Covid-19 cases last night.

As a record 20,554 new cases were announced – the fourth new daily record this week, Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan expressed fears about the rapid spread of the virus, with Omicron now accounting for over 90% cases.

As testing centers struggle to keep up with the current demand, Dr Holohan said the actual number of cases could reach 30,000.

The number of Covid patients in hospitals rose again, reaching 619, including 88 in intensive care yesterday.

Professor Philip Nolan, chair of the Epidemiological Modeling Group, said that although the vast majority of infections do not progress to serious illness, caution is always in order.

He said if the tests were able to fully keep pace with the growing number of infections, the daily number of cases would be around 40% higher.

The numbers have already shown that the number of Covid patients in hospitals is increasing at an alarming rate and Professor Nolan has warned that if intensive care numbers are stable for now, it will take at least a week more before the current wave of infections results in serious results in the population.

Dr Holohan said the current situation was not the same as last year due to vaccinations.

“If we had this number of cases and we didn’t have the vaccination, which was the situation we were in at this time last year, we would have a very, very large number of hospitalizations, we would potentially have a very, very large number of deaths. , much more than what we saw last year. “

He warned people not to hold parties or gatherings to celebrate the New Year.

Getting together in large numbers of four households at this point, given the infection levels we have, just isn’t safe.

“I think it’s important that people hear this message and take these steps themselves as to what they can do.”

Dr Holohan said he has been in regular contact with Health Minister Stephen Donnelly and the two agree on the latest public advice.

“I’ve had an important discussion with the Minister, as you can imagine over the last few days. So that’s Stephen Donnelly’s opinion, I can tell you, and so there’s no difference in terms of evaluating anyone at the official level on what people should do now.

He added: “So I’m making it clear to people that if you want to reduce your risk, and we all have to work together to do that, given the infection levels, we have to follow all public health measures.

“So by cutting off your social contacts as much as possible, people with cold-like symptoms in particular need to isolate themselves.”

Dr Tony Holohan said he and Health Minister Stephen Donnelly agreed with the current public health advice. Photo: Gareth Chaney / Collins

In response to the increase and pressure on testing systems, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly announced a series of changes, including a focus on antigen testing.

To test:

  • Symptomatic people between the ages of four and 39 should self-isolate and perform regular antigen testing instead of PCR. They should opt for PCR if they test positive on the antigen test.
  • Individuals with repeated “undetected” antigen results should self-isolate for up to 48 hours after symptom resolution.
  • Symptomatic healthcare workers should undergo PCR testing.
  • People with an underlying disease should contact their GP.
  • Symptomatic people under the age of three or over 40 should undergo PCR.

Mr Donnelly said antigen testing will be provided to people’s homes when needed, starting Jan. 3.

Self-isolation after a positive PCR result is reduced from 10 to seven days under limited circumstances:

  • Those over 13 who are at least seven days after the booster, or who have completed the initial vaccinations and had Covid-19 within the previous three months, must self-isolate for at least seven days from the start symptoms (or first positive test if asymptomatic).
  • After isolation, they should follow public health advice, including antigen testing, before meeting people.

The changes follow a warning from Dr Holohan that rising Covid levels in hospital “are not sustainable”.

He said: “Over 90% of people hospitalized and in intensive care with Covid-19 are there for the management of Covid-19; less than 5% of people hospitalized or in intensive care have “incidents” [asymptomatic, non-infectious] sickness.”

The changes were immediately greeted with frustration by opposition parties, who noted that just over a month ago the government refused to subsidize the cost of antigen testing, the prices of which still vary widely.

“PCR tests [are] almost unobtainable, records daily cases and no clarity on how our country will function next week, ”Labor leader Alan Kelly tweeted.

“Silence from the Taoiseach and the Minister of Health when the public needs reassurance and at least to see some sort of plan fall into place.”

Sinn Féin health spokesperson David Cullinane said: “One-third of PCR positive cases have tested positive for antigen. This is all the more reason to see a greater use of antigen tests, and to make them available free of charge. “

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said Omicron is a “serious threat”.

“I appreciate everyone’s hard work to keep people safe during this time. Our best protection is the recall,” Martin said in a tweet, adding that 2.08 million doses have now been administered. , including 417,000 last week.

Plans to reopen schools next week remain on track

Looking ahead to the schools reopening next week, Dr Holohan said that while plans to return to the classroom are on track, the situation is constantly being reviewed.

“We are doing all we can … as we face the impact of any wave of disease, including this one, to protect the most important public services we have and these are: health care, education, care for vulnerable people and childcare services, ”he told RTÉ Radio One Morning Ireland.

Although the age-specific incidence is increasing in all age groups, the CMO said it has been declining since early December in most school-age groups.

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Sara H. Byrd