In planning its own Covid response for this winter, Ireland’s Health Information and Quality Assessment (HIQA) has reviewed the public health measures that 21 countries have planned to use this winter to limit the impact of COVID-19 surges.

The review was completed to inform the work of the COVID-19 Advisory Group (CAG) and to assist with Ireland’s winter planning.

HIQA’s review found that most countries were taking a holistic approach to their winter surge planning.

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Many require multiple criteria to be considered (for example, severity of disease associated with a new variant and health services capacity) when determining the threat posed by a COVID-19 surge.

Vaccination strategies for both COVID-19 and flu were found to be a significant component of winter surge planning.

The majority of countries have planned COVID-19 booster vaccine campaigns for targeted groups, usually those most at risk of severe disease or those working in close proximity to them.

However, some countries, like Czechia and the Netherlands, have recommended widespread use of booster doses. Eight of the countries have expanded access to the flu vaccine this year.

From the review, HIQA noted that test and trace plans for some countries allow for different levels of testing depending on the situation.

This includes both widespread testing and targeted testing, and may depend on the transmissibility of the virus, the disease severity associated with the variant and healthcare usage at any given time.

Other countries have planned for the potential reintroduction of face coverings in certain situations.

HIQA’s deputy director of health technology assessment, Shelley O’Neill, said: “With the winter season approaching, there is an increased risk of COVID-19 surges happening simultaneously with flu outbreaks.

“Most countries in our review are planning for this; in Ireland we have already begun our winter COVID-19 booster and flu vaccine campaigns.

“Many countries are preparing to implement further public health measures in addition to the vaccination strategies, if needed, as the season unfolds.

“As with any winter, we advise that you maintain cough etiquette, stay at home if symptomatic and avail of any vaccines recommended for you.”

In addition to the review of planned public health strategies, HIQA has published a catalogue of institutions undertaking COVID-19 horizon scanning.

The catalogue identifies national and international institutions and organisations that conduct horizon scanning for evidence of emerging COVID-19 health technologies, practices and interventions.

This includes COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics, vaccines and other health technologies.

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