02 Jul 2022

COVID-19: HIQA advises caution on return of mass gatherings

COVID-19: HIQA advises caution on return of mass gatherings

Limited crowds returned to sports events last week

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 SARS-CoV-2 at mass gatherings.

HIQA advised that a gradual approach should be taken to lifting restrictions. 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 SARS-CoV-2 transmission at mass gatherings. The evidence summary found that implementing a broad range of public health measures can reduce, but not eliminate, the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission.

HIQA also reviewed public health guidance from 22 countries and two international agencies. HIQA 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, HIQA’s Deputy CEO and Director of Health Technology Assessment, said: “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.”

Dr Ryan continued: “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.”

In Ireland, 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 SARS-CoV-2 in the wider community.

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