The health service will be in ‘serious trouble’ come winter if we don’t reintroduce some COVID restrictions, according to Professor Anthony Staines.
The Government is preparing for a severe flu season this winter – with the potential for an early surge in both COVID and influenza.
Ireland has largely avoided the traditional flu season since COVID first arrived; however, Australia is currently dealing with a record number of flu cases, suggesting the Northern Hemisphere could be in line for something similar.
Yesterday, the World Health Organisation warned that Europe will face a challenging autumn and winter if governments fail to deal with rising cases.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, DCU Professor Anthony Staines said he hopes the Government heeds that warning.
“The chances are we’re going to have a substantial rise in flu, which we haven’t had for the last couple of years, as well as another peak of COVID-19 coming into the autumn,” he said.
“You can see the pressure COVID right now is putting on the Irish health service.
“Around one-in-20 deaths in Ireland, as I am talking to you now, are due to COVID-19, which is a pretty astonishing figure.”
Prof Staines said we will be “in serious trouble” if we see a COVID surge alongside the traditional winter flu season.
He said the introduction of some modest restrictions – including mandatory masks on public transport – could protect patients and the health service.
“The good news is, the same things that prevent COVID prevent influenza,” he said.
“Vaccination is going to be essential, boosters are going to be essential, ventilation is going to be essential and masking is going to be essential. I’m just hoping the Government will really push these points.”
This afternoon, the Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said officials were drawing up a plan in response to the 'perfect storm' of COVID, flu, and other viruses.
The number of patients with Covid-19 in hospital fell to 782 today, but 41 people are in ICU with the illness.
Minister Donnelly said the flu vaccine will again be free for certain groups this year.
“I have secured additional funding already this year to make it free for the same groups as last year,” he said.
“But given this potentially perfect storm of the flu, COVID, RSV and whatever else, I’ve asked NIAC can we go further.
“What I would like to see is combined COVID and Flu vaccinations. That won’t be for everybody but what we know is our public health system is absolutely world class in terms of the vaccine programme.”
Prof Staines said his proposed restrictions will have little impact on people’s everyday lives.
“These are very modest restrictions,” he said.
“We’re essentially talking about asking people to wear masks in crowded spaces and probably requiring people to wear masks on public transport.
“The other stuff like ventilation and air filtration isn’t done by people; it’s done by the people who own buildings.
“Vaccination, I think the Irish people have bought into vaccination with enthusiasm. They just have to remember they need flu vaccines as well as COVID vaccines."
Prof Staines noted that the UK government believes 3% of the population is affected significantly by Long COVID.
“That’s an awful lot of people,” he said.
“It looks, on the evidence we have at the moment, that the more times you get infected, the higher your risk of developing long COVID.”
He said acting now will help reduce the number of people who pick up the virus and end up with long-term effects.
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