An immunology expert has said he would be “surprised and disappointed” if routine contact monitoring for people with Covid-19 ends as early as next month.
The Irish Times reported Saturday morning that most adult case contact tracking would end on October 22, according to proposals the national public health emergency team (Nphet) would consider in October.
But Kingston Mills, a professor of experimental immunology and academic director of TCD’s Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute, said: “I think Nphet is considering that I don’t think they have decided yet. I would be very surprised, I would be very disappointed if they decided.
“The problem is that Ireland still has one of the highest cases per 100,000 in Europe, if not the whole world. So we are not yet at the stage. We get there … the disease is now happening to the most young, which is less serious in terms of hospitalizations, but I don’t think we’re at the stage where we can drop out of testing.
“The problem has been, and that’s part of the problem in schools in recent weeks, they’ve been doing so many tests, I think 157,000 tests a week, but the positivity rate still exceeds 5% and that’s huge.
“So right now we can’t throw in the towel when we’re testing and expect the best.”
Professor Mills spoke with Katie Hannon on RTÉ Radio One on Saturday afternoon.
Meanwhile, the Department of Health said Saturday afternoon there were 1,335 more confirmed cases of Covid-19.
On Saturday, at eight in the morning, 282 Covid-19 patients were hospitalized, of whom 65 were in the ICU.
In Northern Ireland, there have been five more deaths from patients who had previously tested positive for Covid-19. On Saturday, the Northern Department of Health also reported 1,120 more cases.
Under the proposed change to the current arrangements in the Republic, public health specialists could continue to activate contact tracking after a risk assessment of a particular case or group of cases. However, routine use of contact tracking would end.
Nphet officials want to scrutinize this week’s decision to end the follow-up of asymptomatic cases in the classroom before making a final decision to end the follow-up of adult case contacts. Travel-related cases are also being monitored following the decision earlier this month to end tracking flight contacts.
However, there is confidence that the infection rate among primary school children will be set in the coming weeks, despite the decision to allow asymptomatic close contacts to attend school instead of having of restricting their movements at home.
According to official Nphet professor Philip Nolan on Friday, the incidence of the disease in children aged five to twelve is “at least stable and likely declining,” with continued high levels of evidence.
The plan to end the follow-up of most contacts is part of a broader step towards normalcy in this phase of the pandemic, when more than 90% of the population is largely protected against Covid-19 by vaccination or previous infection.
The Government has set October 22 as the date to remove restrictions on Covid-19, as long as the incidence of the virus remains stable or decreases. Another criterion has already been met, 90% of adults who are vaccinated.
The scale of the state’s contact tracking operation is large, with nearly 1,000 people in the health service executive. By mid-August, it was about contacting more than 13,000 cases a week, with 31,000 close contacts notified to staff.
Meanwhile, the Health Service Executive (HSE) has described Saturday’s opening hours for more than 20 Covid-19 vaccination centers across the country.
People attending access centers can get a vaccine without an appointment, although the centers are limited to people 12 years of age or older and children ages 12 to 15 must come with a parent or guardian.
Most itinerant clinics offer the first or second dose of the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine. If a person has had a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine and does not want a second dose of AstraZeneca, they can choose to get an mRNA vaccine as a second dose.
Saturday’s attractions include the Kilmore Hotel, Co Cavan (8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.); City Hall, Dublin (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.); Clonakilty GAA Club, Co Cork (9:15 a.m. to 3 p.m.); Letterkenny IT, Co. Donegal (10.15am to 5.30pm); Citywest Convention Center, Co Dublin (8.15am to 6pm); and the National Show Center, Co Dublin (8.30am to 12.30pm and 1.40pm to 6.30pm).
Elsewhere, open access centers will be open at Galway Racecourse (8.30am to 4.30pm); Punchestown Racecourse, Co. Kildare (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.); Cillin Hill Conference Center, Kilkenny Co. (8:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.); St Fintans Campus Portlaoise (11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.); Breaffy House Resort, Co Mayo (11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.); Fairyhouse Racecourse, Co. Kildare (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.); and Simonstown GAA Club, Co Meath (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.).
Finally, there are open access centers at the Glencarn Hotel, Co Monaghan (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.); Offaly Vaccination Center (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.); Kilbride Community Center, Co Roscommon (9.15am to 4.10pm); Sligo IT (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.); Abbey Court Hotel, Co Tipperary (9 a.m. to 6 p.m.); Clonmel Park Hotel, Co Tipperary (9 a.m. to 1 p.m.); Waterford IT (8.30am to 12.30pm for those over 16 and 13.30pm to 5.15pm for those aged 12-15); Westmeath Community Vaccination Center (9.30am to 11am for Pfizer and 9.30am to 12.30pm for Modern); Astro Active Center, Wexford Co. (9 a.m. to 1 p.m.); and Shoreline, Co. Wicklow (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.).