Limiting any gathering of staff in one room to no more than two hours is best practice in light of the coronavirus but it is not a rule, deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said yesterday.
He was speaking amid ongoing confusion over advice to the Oireachtas saying no session should last longer than two hours.
Dr Glynn described the two-hour limit as “guidance” and said it was used as part of risk assessment by public health doctors if one person present tested positive for the coronavirus.
It would mean close contacts of the worker who tests positive would have to stay home for two weeks.
Two hours is used as guidance by public health doctors in the event a case is confirmed and they use the two hours as a cut-off point in terms of defining who is a close contact or not.
Dr Glynn pointed out there were many sectors of society who had to be in a room for more than two hours.
While the two-hour limit is not a rule, it is good practice in order to limit the impact on the workplace, Oireachtas or Courts Service in the event of a positive case, he added.
Earlier yesterday, the Courts Service and the judiciary rowed back on a precautionary decision to limit court sittings to just two hours.
The swift U-turn came only 24 hours after judges announced shorter sittings after learning of developments at the Dáil Covid-19 committee.
Court sittings are expected to return to normal lengths.
The Courts Service and judges had not previously been made aware of the advice and, perhaps spooked by how it was implemented at the committee, took a quick decision to limit sitting lengths while seeking their own advice.
But the move to limit sittings to just two hours caused considerable anxiety among court users, who have already seen business significantly curtailed by the pandemic. The issue arose after it emerged documents circulated to TDs on the Covid-19 committee said witnesses were “unwilling to attend together for more than one two-hour session” and that the clerk of the committee had been told it would be a breach of guidelines to do so.
The Courts Service confirmed yesterday it received detailed advice earlier yesterday morning on the question of the length of sittings.
“On the basis of that advice, the presidents [of the courts] are very hopeful that full sittings will be able to resume as soon as tomorrow, once certain additional procedures have been put in place.”
In the Dáil yesterday, Labour leader Alan Kelly challenged Health Minister Simon Harris on the matter.
It came after Mr Harris was forced to defend not attending the chamber for a second two-hour session later in the evening by Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy.
Mr Harris said he had to follow the health advice offered to the Oireachtas himself.
He said that different workplaces had been issued different guidelines based on their circumstances.
Mr Kelly said there couldn’t be one rule for the public and one for TDs.
He said his local shop “hadn’t a clue” about advice on not spending more than two hours with other staff. Their viability would be called into question if they had to implement the same guidance as the Dáil because they would have to hire more employees, he said.
Source: Irish News