Two to three weeks of a pause on reopening would make a “substantial difference” in preventing a surge of the Delta coronavirus variant and another lockdown in Ireland, according to a member of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet).
Dr Mary Favier, Covid adviser for the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) and a member of Nphet, has cautioned that if the number of cases of the Delta variant continues to rise, difficult decisions will have to be made by the Government next week.
Dr Favier told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland that there was a concern about the “uptick” in the numbers of cases involving the variant.
Meanwhile, Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan separately said he was cautiously optimistic that the easing of restrictions for indoor facilities can go ahead as scheduled on July 5th.
Dr Favier said the uptick in variant cases was an issue of concern as the Delta variant was more contagious and there had been a change in public behaviour, she said. There was also concern about the impact of long Covid.
Vaccination the answer
Vaccination was the answer and more time was needed, “an additional two to three weeks would make a substantial difference.”
The vaccination programme was going very well, but people needed to have had their two doses for the vaccine to be effective against the Delta variant, Dr Favier added.
She explained that GPs were finding it difficult to determine exact numbers of the variant as people were now going directly to pop-up test centres and doctors could not access data because of the cyberattack on the HSE system.
Previously when patients accessed testing through GPs they would be given advice on isolation and contacts. “We would text people, but we can’t do that now,” she said.
Dr Favier said Nphet will have figures on the variant by the middle of next week and they could meet with the Cabinet on Wednesday rather than their usual Thursday meeting.
It will be the Government that will make the decision about the date for the easing of restrictions for indoor facilities, she said. That decision would be made using “many variables” and it would be a “hard decision.”
Dr Favier said that “social solidarity and the extraordinary community effort had gotten us this far”.
She said that if people were told that delaying the easing of restrictions for a few weeks meant that we would avoid more lockdowns, increased pressure on the health system, then the public would understand.
In the meantime, Dr Favier said she would urge the public to continue to observe the basics – wear a mask, social distancing, wash their hands and stay outdoors.
Meanwhile, Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan told Newstalk Breakfast that he is cautiously optimistic that the easing of restrictions for indoor facilities can go ahead as scheduled on July 5th.
Mr Ryan said Government officials were monitoring developments surrounding the Delta variant. It had always been known that the Delta variant was going to become the dominant variant, he said. That was inevitable.
“No doubt there’ll be some further variant that continues to change the situation,” he added.
The Minister pointed out that Covid case numbers had remained steady and vaccines had been shown to be effective against the variant.
“The way we’ve done this opening in Ireland so far has worked - we’ve managed to keep the numbers steady while bringing back some elements of normal life. At all stages in this, caution has been the appropriate approach. It has served us well, so we will listen to the health advice next Wednesday.”
Mr Ryan added that he did not think plans for international travel from July 19th would change and that Ireland would “broadly align” with the EU approach of a digital green cert for travel within the EU.
The Government did not want a "stop-start" approach to travel, he said and they were and “on track” to move ahead with plans to facilitate travel later this summer.