The government is being urged to bring back mask-wearing on public transport and other crowded indoor environments to tackle Ireland’s summer surge of Covid-19.
Public health expert Anthony Staines said the country was “flying blind” in terms of monitoring coronavirus cases and said measures should be introduced to help reduce community transmission.
Professor DCU Health Systems said: “There are over 500 people in hospital with Covid-19. This is important for a health service that has no spare capacity.
“In addition, somewhere between 5% and 10% of people with Covid develop longer-term symptoms, called long Covid.”
He added: “The advice has not changed. It is an airborne virus. The best answer is vaccination. We have relatively few children under 12 vaccinated.
“Another element is the good ventilation of the interior spaces. For example, in Taiwan there are hepa filters on every bus and there’s no reason we can’t do that here.
“Also the return of wearing masks in crowded indoor spaces – especially spaces where the ventilation isn’t great. So buses, planes, and schools and universities when they return.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organization echoed this call for a return to mandatory mask-wearing on public transport.
General Secretary Phil Ni Sheaghdha said: ‘There are very real reasons why masks have been shown to slow transmission and that’s what we need now because our hospitals are overcrowded to a level we don’t. don’t normally see in winter – and it’s June.”
As of Saturday morning, there were 537 Covid patients in hospitals across the country – 27 of whom are in intensive care units with the virus.
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Experts have estimated that the daily number of virus cases in the country could be between 8,000 and 10,000.
Prof Staines said the figure was a solid estimate of the number of cases and said the lack of information available was concerning.
He explained, “We are flying blind right now. We only really know this when patients show up at the hospital.
“I don’t expect a huge surge in June, July or August. But if there were, we wouldn’t know until the hospital system suddenly collapsed.
“It’s like anything else. The more you know, the better your chances of controlling it – and we don’t know what happens.
“And Stephen Donnelly doesn’t know what’s going on, and that matters, because he’s the one who has the responsibility to make decisions.”
Professor Staines said Ireland should follow the UK’s lead in conducting an ongoing surveillance survey of a sample of the population to better understand community cases.
This comes as Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tony Holohan warned in a letter to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly that hospitals were coming under increased pressure from Covid-19.