The Covid-19 stakeholders’ forum must be convened “immediately” before any derogation on the requirement of close contacts to isolate for 10 days is granted to certain sectors, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) has said.
General secretary Patricia King was speaking as essential services, including commuter transport, childcare, retail and gardaí, warned that services faced severe pressures due to staff absences as society returns to work after the festive break.
The forum, which includes representatives from business, education, health, childcare and social services, sport and tourism, is chaired by the Department of the Taoiseach, and advises on the impact of Covid and emerging issues.
Ms King said there had to be clear links between the public health advice and any derogations for specific sectors such as retail and transport.
“We need to have consistency and we need to have links between the public health advice and the use of those derogations, and it’s not always obvious that that is the case,” she said. “I would call for that stakeholder forum to be convened immediately to feed into Government before they make their final decision.”
According to the HSE’s website, close contacts who have not yet received a booster dose are required to restrict their movements – stay at home – for 10 days as long as their antigen tests remain negative. Close contacts who have received a booster shot are only required to restrict their movements for five days.
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Danny McCoy, chief executive of employers’ group Ibec, said feedback from larger food manufacturers and retailers indicated absenteeism was running at 15 per cent “and rising”, with staff isolating for 10 days. He said about 75 per cent of these were close contacts, with about a quarter confirmed positive cases, and called for clear guidelines for workers who were close contacts on how long they needed to self-isolate .
Irish Rail, meanwhile, has cancelled several commuter services this week “due to Covid-19 and close contact absences”. The cancelled services, from Tuesday to Friday will be the 06:12am and 7.19am service between Newbridge and Grand Canal Dock.
Also affected are the 06:30am Carlow to Heuston service; the 07:35am Newbridge to Heuston service, and the 08:17am, 10:32am, 12:35pm, 5:30pm, 5:52pm, 7:32pm and the 9:35pm services between Hazelhatch and Grand Canal Dock.
In the other direction, services between Grand Canal Dock and Hazelhatch at 7:26am, 9:11am, 11:30am, 4:28pm, 4:59pm, 6:40pm, 8:30pm, and, 10:30pm are cancelled each day to Friday.
Also cancelled all week are the 3:08pm Newbridge to Pearse service and the 1:30pm and 6:17pm services from Grand Canal Dock to Newbridge.
In a statement Irish Rail said: “We are working to ensure that your journey is a safe one during Covid-19. Customers are asked at all times to act in line with Government and health authorities’ advice regarding travel by public transport.”
Meanwhile the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation has called for elective care to be cancelled until the end of January because of pressures on the hospital system from rising Covid-19 case numbers.
More than 6,000 healthcare staff are on coronavirus-related leave as hospitals brace themselves for a sharp rise in patients infected with the disease this week.
General secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha warned the situation in hospitals was “very serious”. Staff were “stretched” and their working environment was “difficult” as it usually was at this time of year, but some hospitals were being overwhelmed. She said the absence of staff due to infection – or being close contacts – was also adding pressure and leading to “a perfect storm”.
She said Staffing levels in intensive care units in particular were under pressure. Consequently, “very sick patients” were being treated on the wards and staff in hospitals were very nervous.