The cabinet has 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 tomorrow, 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, which recommended relaxation of the rule for countries whose health systems are severely strained by staff shortages. was in
On his way into cabinet on Wednesday morning, Taoiseach Michael Martin said: “The peak has not yet been reached, with public health officials predicting that we will reach the 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 has welcomed new advice from Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan to ease restriction rules to fully promote close contacts.
Under the advice, which is being brought to cabinet by Health Minister Stephen Donnelly on Wednesday morning, close contacts who have fully grown without any symptoms will not have to restrict their movements. Close contacts who do not have a booster vaccine will have to restrict their movement for seven days and isolate all positive cases for seven days.
The proposals come as an omicron wave in Europe and Ireland, with Dr Holohan estimating that 500,000 people may have been infected here last week. The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that up to half the population of Western Europe could be infected in the next six to eight weeks.
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Mr Ryan told Newstalk Breakfast on Wednesday 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.
When asked how employers will know if employees have been fully vaccinated and received boosters, if they cannot ask, Mr Ryan said it is a matter of trust between the employer and the employee.
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 DCU, expressed concerns about easing the “blanket” 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, the AnitGen tests will be important. She said one test would 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 considered a significant underestimation of the actual number, as people with symptoms who test positive for antigen are not counted by 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.
Mr Donnelly confirmed on Tuesday that he intends to bring to cabinet the plan that would remove the five-day isolation period for close contacts of confirmed cases if the person has been given their COVID-19 booster.
“If you have elevated immunity, you are currently asked to restrict your activities for five days,” Mr Donnelly told Newstalk radio.
“This requirement will be completely eliminated, so if you have enhanced immunity then there is no restricted movement. Now, the recommendation is still clear that there is regular antigen testing for several days. People will also wear high-grade masks during that period.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Taniste Leo Varadkar voiced his support for easing the rules. “I think we need to relax the rules on close contacts, but we need to find a way to do that, which is safe,” he said.