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Expert warns Covid cases in Ireland now topping 10,000 a day as INMO calls for return of mandatory mask wearing

Independent.ie logo Independent.ie 18/06/2022 Paul Hyland and Eilish O'Regan

A leading immunologist has said that Ireland is currently battling a summer Covid-19 wave as case numbers rise in the community and in acute hospitals.

This morning, there were 537 Covid patients in hospitals around the country, an increase of 22 on the same time yesterday.

Of these, 27 people are in intensive care units with the virus, down one on yesterday.

Meanwhile, the test positivity rate now stands at just under 30pc, up from 16.4pc on June 4.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Brendan O’Connor programme, DCU Professor of Immunology Christine Loscher, who currently has the virus, said she believes daily case figures at the moment could be between 8,000 to 10,000.

It comes as The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) called for a return to mandatory mask wearing in crowded places and on public transport.

General secretary of the INMO Phil Ni Sheaghdha said that additional measures are needed given the sharp rise in cases, particularly in hospitals.

“There are very real reasons why masks have been shown to slow down transmission and that is what we need now because our hospitals are overcrowded to a level that we normally don’t see in winter - and it’s June,” she told Virgin Media News.

Speaking earlier, Professor Loscher said parallels can be drawn between the trajectory of the pandemic in other European countries and the way the virus is spreading in Ireland now.

“We have just seen what Portugal has been through. They have had an uptake in cases, but they seem to be on the decline now. It was a relatively short three- or four-week period where BA.5 took off and, because it is more transmissible, they had more cases,” she said.

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“We are not really going to know how many cases we have because we have quite restrictive PCR testing at the moment. We are doing about 5,000 [tests] a day. It is nowhere near what we were doing at the height of the pandemic.”

Professor Loscher argued it is now harder for people to “monitor” the spread of Covid-19 because the Government has reduced the number of free antigen tests which members of the public can avail of.

“Usually when you reported a positive antigen test you were able to get a supply of antigen tests for other people in your household. You can’t get that anymore,” she said.

“It was almost an incentive to report your positive antigen test because at least you got access to antigen testing for everyone in your household. With that now not there, I think a lot of people would say that there is no point in reporting. So we are not going to know how many cases.”

Professor Loscher said members of the public should continue to follow basic public health advice to protect themselves and urged those who are eligible for boosters vaccines get them.

She added: “We already know what those tools are. Be aware of the environment you are in. And if you do think it is a riskier environment it would be a good idea to put a mask back on.

"There is nothing we can do to prevent us from getting it but there are things you can do to minimise your risk. Mask wearing is one of them. It is not a complete prevention, but it is a very good tool... I travelled recently [on a flight] and I was one of four people on the plane wearing a mask.”

The Abbey theatre in Dublin yesterday was forced to cancel upcoming performances due to to infections among its staff.

The National Symphony Orchestra has also cancelled its June 21 concert because so many musicians have been laid low by the virus.

In his report to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly on June 10 Dr Holohan said there “continues to be a significant number of hospital-acquired infections” and he warned the increase in Covid patients puts pressure on hospitals to provide care with other conditions.

Meanwhile, a group of HSE specialised contact tracers , who track down people who may have been exposed to the virus after an infected person comes to light, and who were involved in complex cases, are being stood down. It has sparked fears their expertise built up during the pandemic in reducing chains of transmission, may be lost.

The small group of highly-motivated Grade 4 staff, along with some part-time workers, regarded as as a “pillar” in infection control with the ability to react quickly to changes in Covid spread, will see their contracts terminated at the end of this month.

They were involved in most complicated tracing exercises so far , including people in nursing homes and those who were found positive for the virus after post mortem and regard their termination as a major loss of knowledge built up during the pandemic.

Members of the team who were working with the HSE since 2020 have built up their skills and fear this will be lost not just in the current wave but the expected spike in cases over autumn and winter.

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