'All bets are off' if COVID-19 becomes widespread in community - Dr Colm Henry


Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

09.43 23 Jul 2020


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‘All bets are off’ if COVID-19 becomes widespread in the community, according to the HSE's Chief Clinical Officer Dr Colm Henry.

He said the 'greatest enabler' of opening up health services, education and society at large will be continued low levels of transmission of the coronavirus.

Health officials have voiced their concerns about a rise in cases in workplace settings and that some close contacts aren’t getting tested.

The HSE's Dr Colm Henry told Newstalk Breakfast that people can’t become complacent despite the progress we've made.

He said: "As a country, we've been remarkably successful in almost extinguishing the virus in the community - great credit is due to everybody for the part they've played.

"We have seen in the past few weeks, as we begin to ease social restrictions, as you would expect, some increase in the number of cases. Some of it is troubling."

Dr Henry highlighted that the median age of new cases is now 31, but 'more troubling' is the number of outbreaks in work and social settings.

People who are close contacts of confirmed cases are now contacted to be tested, but Dr Henry said upwards of 50% are not attending their 'day seven' test.

He said: "In those people who are rested, even those who are asymptomatic - with no symptoms - 6-7% are positive for the virus.

"People are not the best judge themselves as to whether they need a test."

He said the pandemic has been an "unprecedented shock" to the health service, and work is now underway to resume non-essential services over the next few months.

However, he said: "There are two major assumptions in this - one is that community transmission levels remain low, and that those social restrictions begin to ease.

"The greatest single enabler for us in opening up healthcare, education and society is continued low levels of community transmission... if community transmission becomes widespread and uncontrolled, all bets are off."

Once health services reopen, Dr Henry said new infection prevention measures means breast screening programmes will see a capacity decrease of around 40-50%.

However, he said there's also been a "huge shift" towards new measures such as virtual consultations.

He suggested: "We're now being forced into accelerating all those things we wanted to do... moving healthcare services out to the community, and reducing footfall in hospitals.

"It's not a question of piloting or trying things out anymore - it's something we have to do."

Main image: Dr Colm Henry

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