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Covid-19 testing will continue at Galway Airport over Christmas – including during reduced hours this Saturday, Christmas Day – as health services brace for an expected increase in cases of the new Omicron variant.
Breda Crehan-Roche, CEO of Community Healthcare West, said 2021 has been a ‘very difficult year’, but improving testing capacity and booster vaccine effectiveness offered hope for living with Covid in the new year.
Speaking to the Connacht Tribune on Monday, ahead of new hospitality lockdown restrictions going into effect, Ms Crehan-Roche said the stricter rules were “unfortunate but yes they are necessary” because of Omicron.
â€œIt’s its spread, it’s its volume, it’s the number of people who could be sick. There are a lot of unknowns compared to Omicron. NPHET and the government have had a tough call to make, but we must all try to stay safe and take responsibility for our own actions, â€she said.
Ms Crehan-Roche said it was concerning how quickly Omicron was setting up shop.
â€œIt’s spreading like wildfire. It is now the dominant variant, or soon will be. In two weeks, it grew incredibly fast. With Christmas now people are tired and want to be able to relax, but you just can’t let your guard down at all with Covid.
â€œYou have to stay vigilant, you have to make sure you are following all the metrics we know to work – hand washing, social distancing, two-meter hold and ventilation. We are quite worried about the Christmas period which is always a family moment and a moment of catching up. We need people to be on guard, â€she said.
Ms Crehan-Roche said it has been a “difficult year” for health workers, who are “very tired” after two years of work during a pandemic.
â€œWe just went through the fourth wave of Covid and now the new variant, Omicron and all that that entails, is a pretty stressful time for everyone.
â€œBut I am very encouraged by the response from the staff and I recognize and appreciate very well their dedication, resilience and commitment. They have been absolutely amazing over the past two years, â€she said.
Some 360,656 Covid-19 tests were carried out in HSE West during the year through December 20, of which 60% were in Galway, the airport, NUIG, Forster Street in the city and in the centers pop-up test in Tuam and Ballinasloe.
In November, some 66,809 tests were carried out at centers in Galway, Roscommon and Mayo and that figure rose to 72,366 when epidemic tests and serial testing of nursing homes and workplaces were included.
â€œWe did an amazing job and made a difference and we kept people safe – it’s great to be able to say that. People listened to the advice, they went out and got tested, and the only thing we can be sure about Covid is you just don’t know what’s next, â€he said. she declared.
Community Healthcare West suspended school vaccinations and development clinics last year because staff were diverted to higher priority services, like the rollout of vaccinations in long-term care facilities.
Further postponements from routine clinics are expected in the coming months to support the deployment of the Saolta University Healthcare group’s booster vaccines.
But Ms Crehan Roche said there were huge investments in services and it was “a really exciting time” to work in healthcare.
â€œEven now we are looking at a fifth wave, we have managed to recover the services and we have managed to increase our services. There’s been a huge investment, and it’s a really exciting time when it comes to SlÃ¡intecare, when it comes to supporting people and treating people within the community so that people don’t need to. ‘go to the hospital,’ she said.
Ms Crehan Roche said the booster vaccine provided “light at the end of the tunnel”.
â€œWe know the boosters work. We recently performed serial testing at long-term care facilities for the elderly and luckily very few tests came back positive.
â€œWe have made huge investments in prevention to lessen the spread of infection. It remains to be seen what the teachings of omicron are. Are there new variants and mutations?
â€œWe just need to be guided on this, but I know my staff will be there and we will all be on deck providing services. Our staff are amazing, including the voluntary sector, GPs and all the services that are part of the community.
“We will be living with a virus for a while yet, but we have made incredible strides in providing testing, in terms of vaccines and all of those things are measures that will help,” she said. declared.