Ireland’s chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan steps aside to care for ill wife
Ireland’s chief medical officer spearheading the battle against coronavirus is stepping aside to care for his terminally ill wife.
Dr Tony Holohan has been the Government’s key adviser and at the forefront of public health messaging on combating the infection.
He said his wife was diagnosed with blood cancer in 2012 and had been admitted for palliative care last Saturday.
Dr Holohan added: “A plan has been put in train for others to take over responsibility for different aspects of my role.”
His deputy, Dr Ronan Glynn, will take over responsibility on an acting basis.
Dr Holohan said: “As a husband and father and as a public health doctor, I am conscious that we have been through tough times together.”
He added: “Many families across the country have been affected by the course of Covid-19, suffering pain and loss of loved ones.”
His wife Emer was diagnosed with blood cancer in 2012.
He said: “She has had a number of difficult years with her disease and was admitted for palliative care last Saturday.
“I now want to give my energy and attention and all of my time to Emer and to our two teenage children, Clodagh and Ronan.”
The rate of spread of coronavirus in Ireland is higher than it was in recent weeks, public health experts warned.
The number of cases increased towards the end of last week, the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) said.
It added the general transmission rate was low but clusters had been associated with international travel.
Professor Philip Nolan, the epidemiologist advising the Government about the spread, said: “The reproductive number is now estimated to be closer to 1 than it has been in recent weeks.”
The R number is easily influenced by small changes to the transmission of the virus.
Prof Nolan added: “We have noticed an increase in the number of cases towards the end of last week.
“It is a trend that NPHET will continue to monitor closely.”
On Thursday, the authorities said another five people had died and another 15 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed.
Taoiseach Micheal Martin paid tribute to Dr Holohan’s work during the public health emergency.
He said: “His work, experience and briefings helped people to understand the gravity of the situation facing us, while his calmness reassured us that if we followed the guidelines and advice we would overcome these great challenges together.
“Every home in Ireland has come to know Dr Tony Holohan.
“His leadership during the pandemic has given us all confidence that the decisions being made are based on solid public health advice.
“As a country we owe him and his family a great debt of gratitude.”
Under the chief medical officer’s watch, Ireland has driven the rate of infection down from a peak in April, when hundreds of cases were being diagnosed each day and hospital intensive care units were becoming more crowded.
In his final briefing, Dr Holohan said there were low levels of transmission in Ireland.
He added: “We are still concerned and cautious about the risk that is associated with travel outside this country.”
We see new travel-related cases making up an increasing share of the total number of cases that we have had
Dr Holohan said work on drawing up a list of countries which it was relatively safe to travel to was still going on, due to be published this time next week.
He said: “We see new travel-related cases making up an increasing share of the total number of cases that we have had.
“A small number of cases can quickly lead to additional spread and a large number of cases occurring here.
“We have had a cluster in association with travel outside of this country.”
The Taoiseach said he shared his caution about international travel.
He said: “What is worrying the public health officials, worrying me, is continued volatility at the international level.
“Some countries doing well three weeks ago are not doing as well now.
“We have to be very cautious here.
“Economic recovery depends on continued suppression of the virus.”
Earlier, Tanaiste Leo Varadkar said he would like to see a return to international travel as soon as it is safe to do so, adding that Ireland cannot close itself off indefinitely.
For people who travel to countries that are on a “green list” published next week, the 14-day quarantine will not apply.
Mr Varadkar said: “I am also conscious of the fact that thousands of people work in the domestic tourism sector and in our airports and airlines.
“I’m also conscious that people have worked very hard over the past few months and are looking forward to a break but it has to be done safely.”
He added: “We all know we can’t cut off the country forever.
“We can’t stop people from visiting their friends and families.
“We can’t stop business executives coming into Ireland to create jobs so we need to get that balance right.”
Dr Holohan also urged people to use their own sense of acceptable risk in gauging whether it is safe to go into particular pubs and restaurants.
Northern Ireland’s Health Minister Robin Swann and chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride said: “Our thoughts are very much with Dr Tony Holohan, his wife Emer, their children and family circle at this time.
“We have worked very closely with Tony and his colleagues in the Republic of Ireland from the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. We very much appreciate all their support, co-operation and friendship.
“This is devastating news.
“The family can be assured of the support and compassion of everyone across this island.”