HIQA advises NPHET to take cautious approach to lifting restrictions on mass gatherings

Date of publication:

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.

You can find the reports here.


Further information:
Marty Whelan, Head of Communications & Stakeholder Engagement
01 814 7480/085 805 5202, mwhelan@hiqa.ie

Notes to Editor:

  • HIQA has today published the following documents to inform NPHET’s response to COVID-19:
    • advice to the National Public Health Emergency Team: Public health measures to limit the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 at mass gatherings
    • evidence summary of public health measures to limit the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 at mass gatherings.
  • The protocol for this evidence summary is published here.
  • For the first research question, websites of public health agencies and governmental departments (from 22 countries and two international agencies) were searched to identify public health guidance relating to measures advised to prevent transmission of SARS-CoV-2 at mass gatherings. Information relating to the conduct of pilot events as well as plans and conditions for further easing of mass gathering restrictions was collated. The information summarised is correct as of 10 June 2021, but may be subject to change.
  • Large pilot events are ongoing in England and the Netherlands which may provide useful evidence to inform the safe return of mass gatherings.
  • Considerable variability was observed in terms of pre-event testing requirements and these appear to be in flux. Twelve of the 22 included countries have stated plans to undertake (or are currently undertaking) pre-event testing. Countries differ in the timing of the test (7 days prior up to onsite-testing), the test type (antigen or PCR) and, in relation to antigen tests, the test process (self-sample / self-test or provider taken).
  • While the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission at mass gatherings can be reduced by implementing a range of public health measures, it is unlikely that this risk can be eliminated entirely. This should be clearly communicated to those at higher risk of severe COVID-19.
  • The latest information on Ireland’s easing of restrictions can be found here.
  • HIQA provides evidence-based advice to NPHET to inform public health policy, advice and practice in the context of COVID-19. HIQA’s advice is informed by research evidence developed by HIQA’s COVID-19 Evidence Synthesis Team.
  • This advice to NPHET is developed with expert input from HIQA’s COVID-19 Expert Advisory Group. HIQA’s COVID-19 Expert Advisory Group is a multidisciplinary group, comprising nominated representatives from the relevant public health and clinical specialties, methodology experts, and public representation.
  • The topics HIQA researches are outlined and prioritised by NPHET to ensure rapid access to the best available evidence relevant to the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak.