Infectious disease specialist Dr Mary Horgan has called on the public not to travel during Easter weekend due to the risk of asymptomatic people spreading Covid-19.
Dr Horgan, who is a member of the National Public Health Emergency Team and president of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, said “the last thing we want is people moving around” and bringing infections to areas which are free of them at present.
She described the aftermath of Christmas as being “fairly horrific” in Cork University Hospital (CUH) where she works as a consultant.
She recalled that one man had travelled home to see his family at Christmas and infected his mother, his grandparents and his grand-aunt all of whom ended up in hospital.
Speaking on the Brendan O’Connor Show on RTÉ Radio 1, Dr Horgan asked people to “think before they travel” as up to half of the people with the UK variant of the disease are asymptomatic.
“If people could just hang on, there will be more and more vaccines. The big thing is to try and get that jab in your arm as quickly as possible so we can protect people.”
Gardaí have said high-visibility patrols at public amenities, parks and beauty spots will continue across the country this weekend.
In a statement ahead of the Easter holidays, gardaí asked people to plan activities to ensure exercise is taken within the 5km limit for recreation.
The force warned people that illegal parking at popular amenities can result in cars being towed and impounded, and all adults in a car found to be undertaking a non-essential journey may be liable for a €100 fine each.
Dr Horgan said the public needed to think about outdoor living while the days are getting longer and the weather warmer.
“Communities locally should be thinking about how to live outdoors. Now is the time to start building infrastructures outdoors,” she said.
“It aligns with our climate green agenda also perhaps by closing the streets in our towns, incentivising people and putting the onus on businesses in communities to see how they can adapt. Let’s be creative. That’s what we Irish are good at.”
Vice-president of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association Dr Gabrielle Colleran said the work of Prof Horgan and other doctors dealing with Covid-19 had been undermined by a “few privileged, entitled individuals”.
Referring to the revelations that 20 teachers from St Gerard’s School in Co Dublin received the vaccine at the Beacon Hospital, ahead of their place in the rollout schedule, she tweeted: “This undermines our collective [public health] efforts. People will understandable [sic] look at what happened and think why should I follow the rules, when he doesn’t have to? And ultimately that damages societal trust, cohesion, public health measures.
“We have an opportunity now as a society to build forward better to expect more. So many have given so much, we cannot be undone by the few, and they MUST be held accountable by ACTION [sic].”
Beacon chief executive Michael Cullen, whose children attend the school, apologised, and acknowledged that the practice was “not in line” with HSE sequencing guidelines.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said there was “absolutely no defence” for what had happened.
A HSE official is to be tasked with ensuring the hospital’s programme adheres to prioritisation rules in future.
The numbers of people with Covid-19 in hospital and intensive care units continued to fall on Saturday morning.
There were 304 people in hospital, down 17, and 66 people in ICU down one.
HSE chief executive Paul Reid tweeted on Saturday morning: “Thankfully the numbers of #COVID19 patients in hospital and ICU continue to come down, albeit slower than we would all like. Dublin hospitals remain highest. We all want this trend to continue down and avoid the tide turning against us again.”
Meanwhile, AstraZeneca’s president in Ireland has said the State will receive a “large volume” of vaccines in the coming weeks, after weeks of criticism over the impact of its unreliable deliveries on the State’s vaccination rollout.
In an interview with The Irish Times, Dan Wygal declined to apologise for the massive shortfall in AstraZeneca shipments to Ireland, but said he felt “highly accountable” to do all he could to improve the situation.
Ireland was estimated to receive 827,000 AstraZeneca doses in the first quarter based on advance purchase agreements, but just 228,000 arrived.
Mr Wygal, who took up the job three weeks ago, said “in the coming weeks we’ll have some of the largest shipments yet sent into Ireland” as the company is overcoming some manufacturing problems it has encountered.
A shipment of more than 100,000 doses, the largest so far, is expected to arrive next week, though he declined to quote “absolute numbers” for the weeks ahead.