The Delta variant means antigen testing is “absolutely” needed to safely reopen schools, according to Professor Luke O’Neill.
The Cabinet sub-committee on COVID is meeting this afternoon to map out Ireland’s exit from COVID-19 restrictions.
Despite the country’s high levels of vaccination daily cases numbers remain high and hospitalisations are increasing.
The Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan has warned that just over 40% of the coronavirus patients in Ireland’s intensive care units are under the age of 40 and on Newstalk Breakfast this morning, NPHET member Dr Mary Favier warned that the reopening of schools and colleges will take priority over any other easing of restrictions.
On The Pat Kenny Show this morning, Trinity Professor Luke O’Neill said research continues to highlight how transmissible the Delta variant is compared to previous strains.
“They reckon you have 1,000 times the amount of virus in your nose with Delta compared to previous strains,” he said.
“In other words, it is getting a much stronger foothold in our bodies and the fact it is more infectious means it will spread much more readily.”
He said variant makes it all the more important to strong mitigation measures in place for the reopening of schools.
“It is airborne,” he said. “Just like chickenpox will spread in the air, this one spreads in the air as well so absolutely we have to look at the schools really closely to make sure they are mitigating.”
“Schools they have to make sure all the things are in place – very good ventilation, mask-wearing and absolutely antigen testing. I don’t know if there is any update on that but there should be antigen testing in schools twice a week.
“They should have been doing it anyway but Delta makes it seven more important to try and catch your cases as quickly as they can.”
Carbon dioxide monitors
He said carbon dioxide monitors in the classroom will also be essential.
“Let’s hope these C02 monitors are being installed,” he said. “I believe they are being installed and let’s make sure that is the case.
“Then the antigen testing and the masks. I think we will need to move probably towards the primary school kids wearing masks because it is airborne as we know and masks will help in that situation especially with Delta around.
“I think it justifies the use of masks widely in the education system.”
He said new research in the US has really underlined the importance of vaccination against Delta.
“You will decrease your risk of being hospitalised against Delta 25-fold by being vaccinated,” he said. “That is a huge decrease in risk of hospitalisation.
“It has saved 280,000 lives in America, the vaccination campaign – 1.25 million hospitalisations averted from Delta with the vaccines and all the vaccines are performing well.
“In Ireland, they are predicting we are at 600 hospitalisations per week averted from Delta because of our vaccination campaign and 13,000 cases averted.
“So, you can imagine, if there wasn’t the vaccine and Delta was around, we would be in a really bad position now so the vaccines really are working against Delta, just like they did against the other ones, and that is good news – the vaccines are holding up thankfully against this
“But the concern then becomes the unvaccinated people and schoolchildren are not vaccinated.
“We have a highly infectious version about and we are about to reopen the schools so we have got to make sure the mitigation measures are in place when we reopen our schools.”
You can listen back here: