23 May 2022

Irish pandemic experts deliver 'cautious' advice to NPHET that could doom Electric Picnic and other 'mass gatherings'

70,000 capacity event planned for Stradbally in 2021

electric picinc

Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Health will have to advise the Government on the best thing to do with the Electric Picnic

Mass gatherings like the Electric Picnic should be short, seated and have significantly reduced capacity, according to new advice delivered to to Dr Tony Holohan and the National Public Health Emergency Team.

The Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) has published the advice it submitted to the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) on limiting the transmission of Covid-19 (SARS-CoV-2) at mass gatherings.

It has issued a statement which is likely to inform and perhaps lessen the chances of the event going ahead in Laois this September. Electric Picnic organisers have applied to Laois County Council for a licence for a full capacity 70,000 event in late September. READ MORE HERE.

In its statement, HIQA says it has advised that a gradual to lifting restrictions. It says any easing should take consideration of infection levels in the community, levels of vaccination coverage, the risk posed by circulating variants of concern, and the capacity of the healthcare system.

The advice is accompanied by an evidence summary, which examined 11 studies on the effectiveness of measures to reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission at mass gatherings. HIQUA says the evidence summary found that implementing a broad range of public health measures can reduce, but not eliminate, the risk of virus transmission.

HIQA advises NPHET to take cautious approach to lifting restrictions on mass gatherings.

HIQA says it reviewed public health guidance from 22 countries and two international agencies. HIQA says it found that all countries examined had begun to ease restrictions on mass gatherings, however, the speed and triggers to easing restrictions varied considerably

Dr Máirín Ryan is HIQA’s Deputy CEO and Director of Health Technology Assessment. She outlined the advice.

“Not every mass gathering carries the same risk. While no event is risk-free, high occupancy, indoor events with reduced use of face masks, prolonged contact and poor ventilation pose the highest risk of transmission. In the first instance, any organised gathering should ideally involve shorter duration, outdoor seated events, with significantly reduced capacity.

“When planning events, risk assessments should be conducted in advance and a number of public health measures such as physical distancing, face mask use, adequate ventilation and hand hygiene should be implemented. These measures should also be encouraged when considering shared transportation and socialisation, before and after the event,” it says

In Ireland, HIQA says pilot events have been launched to guide the safe return of mass gatherings. These events are important opportunities to assess the public health impact of large events on the spread of the coronavirus in the wider community.

The Electric Picnic says it wants to operate in line with the public health advice at the time of the festival happening. It says it has a draft Covid-19 containment plan which it says it will finalise after agreement with health authorities. MORE HERE.

HIQA SAYS websites of public health agencies and governmental departments (from 22 countries and two international agencies) were searched to identify public health guidance relating to measures advised to prevent transmission of Covid-19 at mass gatherings. It says information relating to the conduct of pilot events as well as plans and conditions for further easing of mass gathering restrictions was collated. 

It adds that large pilot events are ongoing in England and the Netherlands which may provide useful evidence to inform the safe return of mass gatherings.

It says howevr that considerable variability was observed in terms of pre-event testing requirements and these appear to be in flux. HIQA say that 12 of the 22 included countries have stated plans to undertake (or are currently undertaking) pre-event testing. Countries differ in the timing of the test (seven days prior up to onsite-testing), the test type (antigen or PCR) and, in relation to antigen tests, the test process (self-sample / self-test or provider taken).

HIQA says that while the risk of transmission at mass gatherings can be reduced by implementing a range of public health measures, it is unlikely that this risk can be eliminated entirely. This should be clearly communicated to those at higher risk of severe COVID-19.

HIQA says it provides evidence-based advice to NPHET to inform public health policy, advice and practice in the context of COVID-19. HIQA says its advice is informed by research evidence developed by HIQA’s COVID-19 Evidence Synthesis Team.

This advice to NPHET is developed with expert input from HIQA’s COVID-19 Expert Advisory Group. HIQA’s COVID-19 Expert Advisory Group is a multidisciplinary group, comprising nominated representatives from the relevant public health and clinical specialties, methodology experts, and public representation.

The authority says the topics HIQA researches are outlined and prioritised by NPHET to ensure rapid access to the best available evidence relevant to the pandemic.

The authority says the latest information on Ireland’s easing of restrictions can be found here.

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