Updated at 12.40pm
Virologist Dr Gerald Barry has warned that protective measures such as mask wearing and better ventilation and air filtration need to be reintroduced to combat the growing number of Covid cases.
Preparations had to be made to face the new waves of variants to come, he told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.
“These new waves are reality,” he said. It was not a situation where society could “just sit back” and allow repeated waves of the virus to “wash over us.”
Dr Barry said that the current variant BA2 was the most infectious virus he had ever seen and the easing of restrictions had created an environment that had allowed it to spread.
In the past people experienced a severe flu once or twice in their lifetime, there was now a very real possibility that Covid could become a regular event “once a year”. Thankfully because of vaccination most people would not end up in hospital, but this was not a "normality" in which people wanted to live.
The virus was changing all the time, there was a different variant with every wave. A new variant could continue to develop for the next few years, particularly in winter time, he warned.
“We have to prepare for the new waves to come.”
Dr Barry called for the reintroduction of protective measures such as mandatory mask wearing, better ventilation and air filtration systems in indoor settings.
It will still unknown what the long term impact of being exposed to the virus would be, he added.
'Stick to the basics'
Any move to return to mandatory mask wearing would require engagement between the Government and public health officials, the Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said.
The vast majority of people were wearing masks even though they were not mandatory, she told RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show.
Responding to comments on social media by HSE director general Paul Reid, Ms McEntee said that Covid was in the community, and she echoed his call asking people to “stick to the basics” and to adhere to the seven day (self isolation) rule.
Ms McEntee said that while out shopping herself she wore a mask and had noticed more people wearing masks. The Government would be guided by the public health experts, there was a need to ensure that any decision did not have a “knock on” impact.
The Minister for Health was “constantly engaging” with the CMO. While mask wearing was not mandatory at present “that’s not to say that the situation won’t change", she said.
Pressure on emergency departments
Amid the discussion around masks, emergency medicine consultant Dr Fergal Hickey warned that the elastic band has snapped with regard to the pressure on emergency departments.
The situation was the worst he had ever experienced, he told RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show.
Dr Hickey also warned that the situation would repeat itself unless there was a change to the model of the health service. There was only one emergency department in the country that could be considered fit for purpose, he added.
Multi-patient wards, some of which dated back to the last century and beyond, were not appropriate. Dr Hickey added that he did not get a sense that there was a willingness to address the deficiencies in the system.
There was a feeling that the situation would resolve itself, but he warned that staff would leave and go to work in other countries where there were not the same problems and pressures.
That will be detrimental for the Irish public health system in the long run, he said.
Dr Hickey said there was no doubt that masks offered protection and the public was starting to understand that. He had noticed more people wearing masks in supermarkets. Mask wearing was very important in any congregated setting.
It was very important to reiterate that public advice, he said.