Health Minister Stephen Donnelly indicated it is very unlikely that there will be a reintroduction of Covid-19 restrictions from October 22 and he also signalled vaccine booster shots could be on the way for people in their sixties.
r Donnelly said there has no consideration of going backwards and bringing back previous restrictions which have been removed.
He was speaking amid rising concern at the increase in Covid-19 cases and hospitalisations of patients with the virus which threatens the go-ahead for planned removal of most remaining restrictions from tomorrow week.
The minister indicated that people aged over 60 to 65 may be next to be offered Covid-19 booster shots and this is now actively being looked at by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac ).
He said he would also like healthcare workers and groups in the under-60s to be considered also.
Asked about restrictions being reintroduced following the meeting of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nepht) on Monday, when the current worrying situation will be assessed, he said while he could not pre-empt its recommendations there has never been any considerations of going backwards.
But he would not be drawn on whether Covid certs will continue to be needed for hospitality after October 22. He also could not say if nightclubs will be allowed reopen.
He insisted that in the case of both “it is too early to say”
The minister was speaking on a video press conference detailing the contents of the health Budget 2022.
He is currently self isolating at home after developing Covid-type symptoms although he tested negative.
Referring to the Nepht meeting he said :”We will know a lot more on Monday about whether this is a short term increase in Covid-19 or the start of a trend.”
There are worrying figures showing counties such as Waterford, which had the highest vaccination rate in Ireland, now coping with a high incidence.
He again warned of a “tough winter” ahead and said the unvaccinated are putting a disproportionate burden on the health system .
While just 7- 8pc of the adult population are unvaccinated but they make up a third of all hospital admissions and two thirds of intensive care admissions.
“Intensive care numbers would be very much less if more people got fully vaccinated.”
Asked about the efficacy of vaccines and booster shots he said there are mixed reports on the length of time vaccines last.
Some theories say the interval between the vaccines can impact.
Niac is currently considering moving more widely into the general population extending the boosters to the over 65s or over 60s, he added.
If there is evidence of waning in vaccines “we need to be ahead on that.”
Ireland has pre-ordered a lot of vaccine, he added.
He said he has received the expert group report on antigen testing and his officials are currently examining it.
Currently there is nothing stopping any sector from implementing rapid testing in their own areas.
“A lot of work has been done in high risk workplaces.”
Asked why Ireland’s Covid-19 rate was so much higher than several other countries he Europe he said factors such as being near the UK impacted and also this country got hit by the Delta variant earlier than some other members of the EU.
Outlining the health budget for 2022 he said the total allocation would amount to €22.4bn when Covid funding was included.
This includes a total of €350m for waiting lists with €200m going to the HSE and another €150m to the National Treatment Purchase Fund to buy care and treatment in the public and private sector.
He said there are plans to have individual plans for each speciality and holding those who have responsibility for implementing them to account.
He defending restricting the plan to make free contraception free to 17 to 25 year olds saying it is a “first step” and it would be expanded.
Earlier today it emerged that the use of Digital Covid Certificates for indoor hospitality may be extended beyond October 22.
The Government had planned to lift the ban on unvaccinated people or those who are not immune from Covid from dining indoors next Friday, but are now considering delaying the move.
Ministers and senior officials have conceded it is likely the Covid certificates will still have to be shown to dine indoors and for other inside activities beyond October 22.
The Taoiseach today said the country needs to “knuckle down” if the sudden Covid upsurge is to be contained, but he insisted no decisions would be made before next week on whether all intended reopening measures can go ahead from that date.
Micheál Martin said he knew that “everyone’s getting fed up,” but said there was evidence that some businesses are slacking in their checks on customers.
Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris said the Government will consider if the use of vaccine passes will be extended past October 22, even though they were due to expire on this date.
Mr Harris said that the decision on whether the full lifting of restrictions should proceed or not is not a “binary one”.
“I would think we should be asking more nuanced question of each other and of Government and of public health – how can you safely reopen something and keep it open? So, for example, on the 22nd of October, vaccine certs were due to no longer be required.”
He said that if vaccine certs were to “stay a little bit longer” it would allow for sectors to stay open safely.
At a Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting on Wednesday, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar would not rule out the possibility of Covid passes being extended for indoor hospitality. Mr Varadkar was responding to a question from Fine Gael senator Garett Ahern.
In a statement today, Mr Ahern said Covid certificates should continue to be necessary throughout the winter months to “protect public health and promote strong business in the hospitality sector”.
“I know many people wish to continue going into bars and restaurants over the winter months, but the prospect for people of sitting beside unvaccinated groups with no public health restrictions makes many feel very uncomfortable and could limit business within the hospitality sector,” the Tipperary senator said.
Visit our Covid-19 vaccine dashboard for updates on the roll out of the vaccination program and the rate of Coronavirus cases Ireland
The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) are due to give advice to the Government on Monday but senior members of the expert group have publicly raised concerns about the current trajectory of the virus.
There are fears the public has dropped its guard in the fight against the virus and this is leading to a rise in positive cases. Nphet is also anxious to see more people vaccinated even though an overwhelming majority of the population have already received their vaccines.
The remaining restrictions that are due to be lifted on October 22 are:
– The requirement for physical distancing
– Requirements for mask wearing outdoors and in indoor private settings
– Limits on numbers at indoor and outdoor events and activities
– Restrictions on religious or civil ceremonies
– Limits on numbers that can meet in private homes/gardens
– Certification of vaccination, immunity or testing as a prerequisite for access to, or engagement in, any activities or events (with the exception of international travel)
– Restrictions on high-risk activities such as nightclubs.
The Taoiseach said the country needs to “knuckle down” and get back to basics if the sudden Covid upsurge is to be contained.
But no decisions will be made before next week on whether all intended reopening and ending of restrictions can go ahead on October 22, he said.
Micheál Martin said he knew that “everyone’s getting fed up,” but said there was evidence that some premises are slacking in their checks on vaccination checks among intending customers.
“We did get advice that the number of cases has gone up, and the conversion rate into those attending hospital. Hospitalisations have increased as well. And that is a cause of concern,” he said.
“Maybe the guard has dropped for us as a society, understandably because we’ve opened up significantly,” the Taoiseach said.
But there was now a need for us “to knuckle down,” he said, because behavioural studies that have been undertaken “are showing that for, example, simple things like washing hands has gone way down. And the wearing of masks, needs to be scaled up or improved on that front.
“Generally speaking, all of us collectively need to get back to the basics in terms of Covid-19, and those who are not vaccinated and those who have not completed their second dose, please go and get it. All of that is key to meeting this challenge.”
At the same time, he said, “we have to keep it in perspective, up to 92pc of people are fully vaccinated, with 90pc of the over-12s. And that is giving very significant protection to people so we’re not in the situation we were last year. Also the booster campaign has now started and I want that to continue. And look forward to seeing that expanding over time following advice from NIAC.”
“But parallel with that we’ve got to watch our behaviour. We’ve made great progress. The economy and jobs have come back much faster than anticipated. And obviously we want to protect all of that. So the public health authorities are going to assist us over the next couple of days,” Mr Martin said.
“They will advise us early next week, and we will take decisions. No decisions have been made as of yet, but it is important to alert people to the fact that case numbers have gone up, it’s taken a turn for the negative in the last week, and we have got to assess the impact of that.”
Asked if people have a right to refuse vaccination, or should they accept a jab for the sake of wider society, Mr Martin said there had been “a phenomenal uptake” under a voluntary system, and the Government would still like “to persuade people that vaccines, if not something you’re interested in individually, you are protecting somebody else if you take part in the vaccination programme”.
“There are some key areas of work where, obviously, it’s important — that Frontline, for example, would be vaccinated; those who are treating people or engaging with the public as they come into hospitals,” Mr Martin added.