Taoiseach Michael Martin has defended the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic this winter as he confirmed that rules for close contacts will be eased from Friday.
Mr Martin said in a cabinet decision that close contacts of confirmed cases no longer needed to restrict their movements for five days – once they got a booster shot – in the fight against the Omicron version of the virus. Progress reflected.
He said this was made possible by a “very robust” vaccination programme, adding that more than 10 million doses have now been given.
He urged those who have not received jabs or boosters, as it will prevent serious illness.
“We have to be cautious. We have to avoid this virus. But the decision on close contacts represents a balance especially in terms of pressure on supply chains and healthcare and other essential services, but the progress we are making with regard to vaccination.” are.”
Mr Martin said closing times for pubs, restaurants and cinemas at 8 pm would be reviewed later this month.
Speaking during a post-cabinet press conference, Mr Martin dismissed suggestions that the high level of Covid-19 cases represented a failure of the government’s plan for the winter.
He said: “I don’t accept it at all. It’s just the opposite.”
Mr Martin said Omicron is a highly permeable version of what is affecting countries around the world and that people had reacted “instinctively” to the restrictions and measures and changed behaviour.
“The key metrics in terms of mortality in terms of hospitalization and ICU admission are such that we are managing this wave effectively.”
Mr Martin also said: “There is no comparison in terms of the level of activity going on in the economy and across society compared to 12 months ago, when you had a much less communicable version.
“We’re not on level five [restrictions] Despite the very high level of cases.”
He said 300,000 PCR tests are being conducted per week, compared to 100,000-weeks at the same time last year.
Mr Martin also indicated that there would be no change in policy regarding the provision of free antigen tests.
Currently they are available to people under 40 who have COVID-19 symptoms as well as close contacts of cases in schools.
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Opposition politicians have called for free antigen tests to be distributed more widely.
“Basically we’ve given out about 6.4 million free antigen tests so far … which is a very significant number.
“I think a targeted approach is working effectively in terms of close contacts, in terms of symptomatic and in terms of crches and schools etc. And that policy will continue.”
Earlier on Wednesday, the cabinet agreed to relax rules on close contacts of Covid-19 cases, paving the way for thousands of people to return to their workplaces.
Ministers agreed to proposals by Health Minister Stephen Donnelly that close contacts of confirmed cases no longer need to restrict their movements for five days after getting a booster shot.
It is understood the measures will go into effect from midnight on Thursday, and should enable thousands of people who were staying at home to return to work.
The changes come after a recommendation by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) to accept advice from the European Center for Disease Control (ECDC), which recommended easing the rule for countries whose health systems are suffering from staff shortages. was under severe stress.
Going into cabinet on Wednesday morning, Taoiseach Michael Martin said: “The peak has not yet been reached, with public health officials predicting that we will peak within the next week or two.
“Nobody can be sure or sure about it, we have to be very cautious about covid and omicron because more than a thousand people are in the hospital and no one goes to the hospital unless you are sick.
“So we understand that this is a very dangerous virus.”
He said the “best weapon we have” is vaccination and adhering to public health guidelines.
Earlier, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan welcomed Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan’s advice to ease restriction rules to promote close contacts.
Mr Ryan told Newstalk Breakfast that the move would be beneficial to employers and their employees and that it came as a result of the ECDC’s recommendations.
He said the system has been “confused” over the past few weeks, and that the move would provide clarity.
However, Mr Ryan warned that the virus could not be “ripped out”. He said the number of COVID patients in the ICU “is stable”, and Ireland has the second lowest COVID death rate in Europe, “because the vaccine works”. He said the measure should be the number of hospitals and not the number of cases.
Asked how employers will know if employees have been fully vaccinated and if they haven’t, ask employees to get a booster, Mr Ryan said, adding that it is a matter of trust between the employer and the employee. Is.
He said that people were vaccinated for their own good and out of a sense of pride that they are protecting others.
The restrictions regarding the hospitality sector and the current 8 pm closing time will remain in place unless they are reviewed later in the month, Mr Ryan said. He said he was confident such restrictions could be lifted at that time because it appeared to be “a small wave”.
Earlier, Christine Loscher, professor of immunology at Dublin City University, expressed concerns about the easing of close contact requirements.
“I wonder if there’s a massive change. It’s a little bit all-or-nothing,” Prof Loescher told Newstalk Breakfast.
Prof Loescher said she understands the need to change rules regarding the workplace, particularly for essential services, but added that she was concerned because the Omicron version was more permeable and she would not want to see that change matter. numbers have an effect. ,
“If this is the way to go,” she said, then antigen tests will be important, and one test will need to be done every day.
Prof Loescher said it was not yet known how many close contacts turned into cases, what percentage and in what setting.
He said that every single public health decision so far has been based on scientific evidence. “It doesn’t seem like that happened here.”
The health department said Tuesday that 19,290 new cases of the virus were confirmed, although it is widely thought to be a significant underestimation of the true number, as people with symptoms who test positive for the antigen are not counted among department officials. Its being done. Statistics.
Mr Donnelly said on Wednesday that the state was delivering its 10 millionth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, describing the number as “a huge milestone” in the vaccination programme.
As per the latest available data, there are 1,055 patients with COVID-19 in hospitals in the country, of which 92 are in ICU.