Coronavirus: HSE's Colm Henry hails 'shoots of hope', but warnings remain

The chief clinical officer at the Health Service Executive (HSE) has said there are 'green shoots...
Jack Quann
Jack Quann

09.21 30 Oct 2020

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Coronavirus: HSE's Colm Henry hails 'shoots of hope', but warnings remain

Jack Quann
Jack Quann

09.21 30 Oct 2020

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The chief clinical officer at the Health Service Executive (HSE) has said there are 'green shoots of hope' in falling coronavirus numbers.

But Dr Colm Henry said concerns remain, particularly with the over-65s age group.

He told Newstalk Breakfast: "There certainly remains much to worry about, but yes there are shoots of hope and they imply that perhaps the measures that everybody's taking... are starting to kick in.


"So what we see is that a number of daily cases of less than 1,000 for six of the past seven days.

"You remember only a week or two ago we were hitting cases of 1,200 per day and getting used, with numbing regularity, to those new figures.

"And we see the 14-day incidence [rate] - that's the way we compare ourselves from time to time and with other countries - we see that falling from 309 per 100,000 to 292.

"And also we see that seven day average - what proportion of cases over the past 14 days occurred in the past seven days - that's now fallen to 42%, implying that we've reached a peak.

"The one caveat I'd say is even though we see the beginning of drops in all age groups, that does not apply to the over-65s.

"And that's where the disease has its greatest impact in terms of severity".

Older age groups

He said the most likely explanation for this is a "delayed effect".

"It began with a surge of outbreaks in younger people and then wide-spread transmission within younger people.

"And then it was inevitable when that got to a certain level that seeped into older age groups.

"But there was a noticeable lag, not just in Ireland but in other countries between the surging levels in the 18 to 25 age group and that critical age group [of] over-55, over-65.

"So it's going to take longer to turn that ship with the older age groups, and we see that playing out in Europe at the moment.

"[There is] a lot of concern in countries - 200,000 cases reported in one week alone in France, an increase overall in European cases of 36%.

"We've always been behind them in terms of our experience and had the advantage of seeing how it's beginning to impact on their healthcare services.

"And we see that happening now in Belgium and the Czech Republic, where their intensive care and acute hospital services are under strain".

"So the message this morning is yes - there are green shoots of hope, but we're only ever two or three weeks away from our health systems from being overrun".

School hand sanitisers

On suggestions that masks could be brought in for primary schools, he said: "We're always considering additional measurers that are being brought in".

But he admitted this could be problematic due to "the obvious difficulties with younger children in getting them to wear a mask all the time".

On the issue of hand sanitizers in schools, Mr Henry said the recall relates to the alcohol content of the products, not safety concerns.

Irish schools have been instructed to stop using another 52 sanitiser products that were provided to help them safely re-open.

But Dr Henry said: "To reassure people we have lots of stock.

"The particular issue that came over last weekend pertained to about 8% of our stock.

"People would have read that most of that was in storage and so much of it was out of the system".

He said the main concern was the alcohol content of some of the sanitizers.

"The main concern over it was that when you look at what the WHO describe what an effective hand sanitizer would be, they describe that it should be at least 60% alcohol.

"And in the analysis that was done, we saw of the three samples: one was slightly short, one was sufficient and one was at 50% alcohol."

"So the main concern was over the status, efficacy, of the product.

"As regards safety, it's meant to be applied to hands only so these products are never meant to be ingested.

"But that component that contains methanol certainly wouldn't be something you'd want anybody to drink or ingest because it wouldn't be safe under any circumstances".

'Going in the right directions'

Earlier, professor of health systems at DCU Anthony Staines told Breakfast Briefing the number of coronavirus cases is going in the right direction.

"It is positive, because it could have continued going up or it could have stayed the same.

"So something is probably beginning to happen.

"It's too early to be patting ourselves on the back yet, but it's certainly going in the right directions".

Prof Staines said the long discussions about level five restrictions, before they came in, most likely impacted people's behaviour.

"My thought is this is probably down to the very long discussion about going to level five before level five came in.

Level five - it isn't like turning on a switch or taking a tablet, it's something that changes people's behaviour.

"And the discussions about the serious problems we were having before it came in, the discussions between NPHET and the Government's response to NPHET's advice all of that almost certainly changed people's behaviour.

"The level three restrictions really seemed to have very little effect: they may have stopped things getting worse, which is obviously enormously important, but there wasn't much sign that it was going down till that discussion really kicked into gear".

Main image: The HSE's Chief Clinical Officer Dr Colm Henry speaking at a Department of Health COVID-19 HSE briefing in Dublin. Picture by: Sam Boal/

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