Covid passes could be made compulsory for hospital and nursing home visitors

Covid-19 passes look could be made compulsory for people visiting patients in hospitals and nursing home relatives amid fears the latest surge in infections will see a rise in deaths and pose a major threat to the health service.

etween 800 and 1,000 Covid-19 patients may be in hospital at the end of next month, and between 150-200 seriously ill in intensive care.

The stark picture of another winter fighting Covid-19 was revealed by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) yesterday.

There were 464 Covid-19 patients in hospital yesterday and 86 in intensive care – a jump of 14 in the previous 24 hours.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan signalled that people visiting hospitals and nursing homes may soon have to show a Covid-19 pass.

He said “it seems entirely sensible to me” that if they are needed to gain entry to a nightclub they should be needed for visits to hospital and nursing homes, given the vulnerabilities.

“It is in place in other countries,” he added.

The HSE is now looking at how this would operate and what exceptions might likely be made, he revealed.

Regarding nursing homes, he said people’s access to loved ones is important to their life experience and there was a need to be sensitive to that in bringing in new rules.

But it may be “necessary in this time of significant transmission”, he added.

Daily cases of the virus rose to 2,148 yesterday with infections in all age groups.

Another 63 Covid-related deaths were reported last week, but Nphet said the fatality toll, which had been steady, will rise again.

A number of drivers are behind the worsening situation here, including the early arrival of the Delta variant and the growing level of social mixing.

The more infectious Delta variant took a grip as vaccines were rolled out, and it appeared to ‘freeze’ the country where it was in relation to the virus.

The current downturn comes despite the high level of vaccination take-up, but Nphet said there are still serious gaps in vaccination in some age groups.

Around 350,000 people are still not vaccinated, including one in five aged 18 to 30 and 40pc of 12 to 15-year-olds.

Although hospitals are seeing more older patients with Covid-19, Prof Philip Nolan, who tracks the virus for Nphet, said there was little evidence at this point that it was due to waning immunity among the fully vaccinated.

Dr Holohan said there was “no magic bullet” to escaping the current deterioration and said it came back to “individual commitment” and the need for people to put their “hearts and minds” into following basic Covid-19 safety rules.

Vaccination continues to be a major shield in protecting people with the virus from getting seriously ill, and vaccines have stopped around 1,700 possible deaths here since June, he said.

There is not an inevitability that the worst predictions around hospitalisations will happen, he added. There is still very good adherence by people to Covid measures, but it is “not quite enough”, said Dr Holohan.

He appealed to people to renew their commitment to public health measures, and added that vulnerable people and the over-60s should minimise discretionary social contacts.

A key message is that anyone who has possible symptoms should stay at home and get a test.

Asked about the reopening of nightclubs, Dr Holohan said it was a matter for those who know how they are run to draw up the best measures to reduce the risk from Covid-19.

Commenting on the use of Covid passes in the hospitality and entertainment venues he said: “We know that we have between a quarter and a third of bars and restaurants that are not checking for Covid passes.

“But many restaurants and bars have been, and deserve credit for that and [for] contributing to limiting transmission and risk to the public and the people they employ.

“There is no reason that the nightclub sector cannot be the same and avoid a free-for-all.”

We are just about able to remember what a nightclub experience was like, and know that it carries the risk of transmission of the virus, Dr Holohan said, adding that if people adhere as much as possible to the rules they will minimise that risk.

He said there should be strict adherence to only allowing in people who are vaccinated and not symptomatic, and complying with all the measures in place.

Asked about schools, Dr Holohan repeated that the risk of transmission there was low.

He referred to some recent outbreaks, where activities outside of schools had played an important role in transmission.

“It’s not to say there is zero risk in that environment, but we think the risk is low in relative terms, compared with transmission in other settings,” he said. However, the rise in Covid cases has raised anxiety levels in education settings, and closed at least one school.

Meanwhile, the demand for Covid passes to access indoor hospitality was given credit for queues for vaccines which formed at a pop-up clinic in Trinity College Dublin yesterday. About 500 people turned up – and Dr David McGrath, director of the college health service, said it represented “a significant jump in demand” with around half of those there seeking first jabs.

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