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Travel and gatherings could create ‘perfect storm’


TESTING TIMES A tester is pictured at work at the Covid test site at MacHale Park, Castlebar. The numbers of tests at the centre have rised sharply in recent weeks. Pic: Michael McLaughlin

Covid medic advises against travelling and socialising this Christmas

Anton McNulty

PEOPLE travelling home from the UK and elsewhere overseas for Christmas are being advised cancel their plans or risk creating a ‘perfect storm’ for a Covid spike in the county.
Since the start of December, the Covid-19 test centre at MacHale Park has seen a spike in people attending for testing, with weekly referrals numbers increasing by close to 50 percent. That figure is expected to rise over the Christmas period.
With Britain’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock describing the new mutant strain of coronavirus as being ‘out of control’ in London and much of southeast England, fears are growing that it will spread to Ireland. In light of this, Dr Gillian Chambers, the Clinical Lead for the Covid-19 Testing Programme in Mayo has advised people outside the country not to travel home for Christmas.
“In January we were likely to have increased numbers anyway because that is what the modelling is tell us. But now throw in a virus that is way more readily transmittable on top of that, it is just a perfect storm for a huge increase of cases,” she told The Mayo News.
“[The new strain] is seven times more transmissible than the one we have already, which is already a pretty transmittable virus. I would worry, if it it is seven times more transmissible it means that for every case that gets it, it will result in multiple cases.
“I wouldn’t travel from the UK … basically anywhere outside Ireland, bar a few places like New Zealand and South Korea, have much higher rates than we have, and you are much more likely to bring something home. Most people aren’t coming home to sit in the house, they are coming home to meet people and visit and mix. There is a strong possibility of bringing home more than a present unfortunately. It’s just not worth it.”

Dr Chambers said that the MacHale Park testing centre has already seen cases as a result of travel, and she warned that getting tested before travelling is not always fail proof.
“A lot of people even had a test before they left which was negative... but some of the tests are not great. The gold standard is the PCR test, which we use in MacHale Park. Some of the other tests are grand but nowhere near what you need for a full detection."
Speaking on Wednesday, Dr Chambers spoke about the up to date advice.
“At the start of this week the advice was to have a test before leaving and five days after landing have a PCR test and restrict movements until then. However, that has changed and now anyone coming from the UK should isolate alone for 14 days regardless of test results," she said. 
The MacHale Park testing centre will be open throughout the festive period including Christmas Day. 
Dr Chambers added that there has been a noticeable increase in referrals in the last week with the positive rate also increasing to 3 percent and more younger people being tested. She said that people will have to make choices if they want to socialise this Christmas. 
“It is probably not what people want to hear, but if you make the choice you want to go out and socialise and meet people outside your household you have to consider not meeting your elderly relatives and over 65s. That is the reality.
“We have been told to expect this week to be busy and early January to have a big surge. The knock-on effect will be people coming into hospital and then a knock-on effect on ICU admissions and unfortunately that will lead to a spike in deaths as well. 
“January is always a difficult month for the health service, but next month will be particularly difficult unless we become really careful over the next few days,” she warned.

Reduce contacts now
Dr Breda Smyth, Director of Public Health in the West also warned of the risks associated with ‘intergenerational’ mixing over Christmas and urged the public to restrict their movements.
“As we approach Christmas, it’s vitally important that we all limit the number of interactions we have with others … If you take a risk today, tomorrow, or over the next few days, then you are putting anyone you see over the Christmas at risk. Think about the impact that being diagnosed with Covid-19 would have on those close to you,” Dr Smyth said.