CMO advice must be scrutinised

In Blog, Families, Health, Older People by Denis Naughten

 

Today, I highlighted a discrepancy in the way that Covid 19 infection information is managed in schools which potentially exposes people who are immunocompromised.

While the Chief Medical Officer’s advice earlier this week stated that a Public Health Risk Assessment will still be carried out to protect vulnerable children in special schools, no such assessment will be carried out if their brother or sister is a close contact in a mainstream school.

This needs to be looked at again, but An Taoiseach is response to me has said that Government is accepting the advice of the CMO without question.

While I know that this has been the Covid policy in the main over the last 18 months, I believe that it is important that such decisions are open to scrutiny and the Cabinet must take ownership of the transition out of Covid restrictions.

Here is what was said in the Dáil:

Dáil Éireann 29th September 2021

Denis Naughten: As the Chief Medical Officer, CMO, pointed out on Monday in his statement on contact tracing in schools, there is a substantially higher risk of transmission of Covid-19 in households compared to other settings, including schools. As a result, families with somebody who is immunocompromised will not now be told if their child is a close contact, exposing vulnerable people to Covid-19 infection. The CMO said that while a public health risk assessment will be carried out to protect vulnerable children in special schools, no such assessment will be carried out if a child’s brother or sister is a close contact in a mainstream school. How can this be right? The policy must be looked at again, even until the immunocompromised people have received their booster Covid shot.

Taoiseach in reply: We have to be careful. Some people keep second-guessing public health advice. The bottom line is that the schools have fully reopened safely after the summer break. From the start of the pandemic schools have consistently operated on the basis of public health advice, and it has been a consistent principle that the Minister for Education and the Department of Education operate in accordance with the public health advice that is given at any point in time. Following a review, NPHET has recommended that from 27 September routine contact tracing of asymptomatic close contacts among children in settings such as childcare facilities, primary education and social and sporting groups will no longer take place, with the exception of children in special education settings. That is the advice that has been given and the Department has issued updated guidance to schools on foot of the change. The balance is correct in that decision.

That is my observation on it. The Deputy is entitled to raise questions. I fully understand that, but there is a balance here. I would argue that accepting the public health advice has worked so far in dealing with that.