Dr Tony Holohan has warned that people must act now to stop the spread of disease as the surge in Covid cases continues.
The Chief Medical Officer said Ireland’s current infection rate is having a ‘negative impact’ on public health.
He said: “The current level of COVID-19 in Ireland is having a negative impact on the health of the people of Ireland and placing an enormous burden on our entire health system, from public health to general practice to our acute hospitals.
“Non-COVID care – including cancer surgery, cardiac care, hip and knee replacements, mental ill-health and all of the common ailments that, if identified and treated promptly, may be prevented from deteriorating further – continues to be severely impacted.|”
Dr Holohan said he understands that people are tired of the pandemic but said: “Through small but vital individual and collective actions we can turn this around.”
He said people may feel “unsure about what they should or should not be doing” and so asked people to “focus on these five actions to reduce your risk and keep yourself and your family safe over the coming weeks”.
1. If you have cold or ‘flu symptoms, isolate immediately and get a PCR test, not an antigen test
The single most important thing you can do if you have symptoms is to self-isolate straight away and book a PCR test online or contact your GP.
If you get a PCR test result that does not detect COVID-19, you should still isolate until 48 hours after your symptoms have settled.
2. Prioritise who you need to meet
This does not mean staying at home. It does not mean avoiding all contact with others. But the reality is that the more people you meet up with, the greater your risk of catching COVID-19.
Dr Holohan said: “We are asking everyone to reduce their contacts in whatever ways make most sense for them.
“This will include working from home unless it is necessary to attend in person; if meeting with people from outside your household keep the group small; avoid crowded spaces and keep your distance from people not in your group.”
3. Meet others outdoors and open windows when indoors
Try to meet up with other people outdoors. If indoors, keep your distance and avoid poorly ventilated spaces – virus particles can build up in these spaces, particularly if people are shouting, singing or coughing.
4. Wear a mask
You should wear a mask whenever you are in crowded outdoor or indoor environments, including in shops, public transport, cinemas, and theatres.
People aged 70 years and older and those of any age who are immunocompromised should wear a medical-grade face mask.
5. Use the right test and understand what the test result means
If you have symptoms of COVID-19, you should isolate and book a PCR test online or contact your GP.
You should NOT take an antigen test; a ‘negative’ antigen test result does not mean that you don’t have COVID-19, and you will still need to continue isolating and get a PCR test.
Dr Holohan said: “Unfortunately, our data suggests that the majority of people who are using antigen tests at present are symptomatic and that of those, the majority who get a ‘negative’ result are incorrectly assuming that this means they no longer have to self-isolate or get a PCR test – potentially placing many others at risk of COVID-19.
“You should only consider using an antigen test if you have NO symptoms of the disease and only as a further additional tool, along with all of the other public health measures, t