I can assure the Deputy that the public health advice relating to Covid-19 and it's impact is kept under continuing review by the NPHET and the Government. I would also wish to underline the acute awareness of the Government of the important role which sporting activities play in communities across Ireland, and the severe impact which the restrictions that we have been living under for much of this year have had, in particular on younger people.
As the Deputy is aware, the Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021: Plan for Living with COVID-19 was published by the Government on 15 September. This Framework sets out Ireland's approach to managing and living with COVID-19 in a range of areas over the next 6 - 9 months. The Plan provides for five levels of response, each with a number of measures designed to help us all lower COVID-19 transmission and setting out what is permitted at that moment in time.
Each of the levels contains a “basket” of measures which are intended, collectively, to contribute to lowering the risk of transmission of the virus in relation to the anticipated degree of risk at a given time. The set of measures, individually, do not comprise a list of activities or places which are equally safe. Instead, they are “baskets” of measures which:
- Are informed by public health understanding of the disease
- Recognise that we can and must prioritise some activities over others
During this pandemic, the application of the public health advice measures to suppress the disease transmission is intended to minimise the risks to public health while attempting to strike an appropriate balance in:
- prioritising some activities over others, including health and social care services, education and other essential needs.
- protecting work and economic activity, and other key societal interests such as sports and important family gatherings, thereby allowing as much of society and business to continue as “normally” as possible while continuing to make every effort to suppress the virus.
To inform national efforts in response to COVID-19, the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) has undertaken a significant body of work and developed evidence summaries to answer specific research questions posed by the NPHET. The HIQA evidence summary for the Spread of Covid-19 by children was published on 21 August last and is available on its website at www.hiqa.ie/sites/default/files/2020-08/Evidence-Summary-for-spread-of-Covid-19-by-children-.pdf. This document also provides some evidence demonstrating where the spread of Covid-19 has been linked to children's sporting activities.
The Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) has published guidance to assist with the return to sports activities for children and adolescents which is available at www.hpsc.ie/a-z/respiratory/coronavirus/novelcoronavirus/guidance/sportandrecreation/. These recommendations outline both the necessary measures which should be taken prior to the return of children to organised sports, as well as the more general ongoing measures which need to be taken to continue to reduce the risk posed by COVID-19. These measures are aimed at minimising the risk of COVID-19 to children while enabling a returning to sports activities.
In general, COVID-19 spreads when individuals and groups come into close contact with one another, enabling the virus to move from one person to another. It is thereby considered prudent to regard team sports as carrying a higher risk of virus transmission occurring, as opposed to sports which involve less close contact among individuals and where a distance of 2 metres between participants can be maintained.
The number of people allowed to gather in different scenarios in the Government Framework are based on a review of international practice and the judgment of public health experts. It seeks to balance the risks of different types of gatherings against the desire to allow normal activities to proceed in so far as possible.
The Deputy should note that the numbers should not be considered a target - they are the maximum recommended number. It’s always safer to meet less people, less often, for less time. If we do this, we have a better chance of keeping to the lower Levels in the Framework, and continuing to keep businesses, schools, and healthcare services open, while also protecting the most vulnerable.
Further information on the public health measures currently in place under the different Levels can be found at https://www.gov.ie/en/campaigns/resilience-recovery-2020-2021-plan-for-living-with-covid-19/.