Covid-19 will be “with us forever”, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said on the day that the number of Covid-19 cases climbed to the highest total in nine months with 2,466 confirmed on Friday evening.
Speaking in Limerick earlier, Mr Varadkar warned that stringent restrictions on society may yet have to be reintroduced should a new variant of the virus emerge.
“There’s always the possibility that restrictions may need to be introduced in the country as a whole, but what we are aiming to do is to get through this winter without having to do that,” he said.
“I think it’s increasingly clear that Covid is going to be with us forever. It’s going to become an endemic virus, perhaps a virus that is seasonal in nature,” he said.
“Everyone in Government is going to be a little bit worried about what we face into for the next couple of weeks”.
Mr Varadkar expressed concern for members of his own family who work in health services as they prepare to face another uncertain winter working on the frontline.
“I think people working in the health service are [worried] as well, and I have a lot of friends and family working in the health service, so I am concerned for them and the pressures they and patients are going to face over the next couple of weeks,” he said.
Mr Varadkar acknowledged another more transmissible and harmful variant of Covid could emerge: “That’s right, and we know from the experience in other countries that Covid cases are rising in Germany and Belgium and Netherlands, linked to the fact that people are mixing more, linked to the fact that we are heading into winter and people are heading indoors more.”
Mr Varadkar, who is a qualified doctor, said he would be prepared to assist colleagues in the health system if he was needed: “As you know I’ve done that on two occasions in the pandemic and most recently I was a part of the vaccination programme during the summer so the short answer is yes — I am willing and available to help out if I’m needed.”
He said he would not be immediately joining others in returning to the nightclub scene, “Not this weekend, but I’m not in the business of criticising or condemning anyone who decides to go out.”
“It’s allowed, so people can, we just ask people to take the precautions, make sure your vaccinated, bring you’re Covid cert, and if you’ve any symptoms — whether you’re vaccinated or not — please don’t go out, wear the mask where appropriate, and consider taking an antigen test to give you that additional reassurance.”
As of 8am on Friday, 457 Covid-19 patients were hospitalised, with 90 of them in ICU.
The five-day moving average is 2,123.
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said the upcoming Bank Holiday weekend would bring increased levels of socialising across the country.
“With the current trajectory of the disease in Ireland it is important that every individual knows and acts on the basic measures to limit the spread of Covid-19.”
Dr Holohan said the HSE was continuing to operate walk-in Covid-19 vaccination centres across the country for anyone aged 12 years and older.
He encouraged anyone who had not yet attended for their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, or second dose if it is due, and had yet to receive an appointment, to avail of these vaccination centres this weekend.
“You can also register for a vaccine appointment online or by phone, or book an appointment with a participating pharmacy. These vaccines are very safe and effective at protecting against the worst effects of Covid-19.”
Meanwhile, the Central Statistics Office (CSO) has said all but one of the 23 Covid-19 deaths in the latest confirmed weekly figures were among people aged 65 years and older.
The latest official figures show a drop in the number of deaths recorded on previous weeks but an increase in the number of cases and admissions to hospital of people with the disease.
The 23 deaths figure recorded in the week to October 15th was down from the 32 people who died the previous week and the 37 who died with the disease the prior week, ending October 1st.
There was a 13 per cent increase in the number of cases of the disease, rising to 10,675 cases during the week. Children aged 14 and younger accounted for 22 per cent of all new cases.
Almost a third of cases were among people aged between 25 and 44, while some one in 10 (13 per cent) were among those aged 65 and over, according to the CSO’s Covid-19 deaths and cases weekly data.
The 13 per cent of cases recorded among people aged 65 and over was the same percentage as the previous week – but more than three times the level recorded in early August.
The number in hospital has continued to rise steadily over recent weeks, up to 413 from 354 the previous week, and increasing by 43 per cent from the number hospitalised a month earlier.
Admissions to ICU stood at 73, the same number as the previous week.
Healthcare workers accounted for the most cases with 17 per cent of reported cases showing a record of employment being in the human health and social work activities.
Some 6 per cent of all cases were among people employed in education.
Dublin and Cork recorded the highest number of cases during the week, with 2,638 and 1,090 new infections being reported in each of those counties.
The biggest increase in cases over the week were recorded in Leitrim, where there was a rise of more than 100 per cent in new cases, followed by Clare (57 per cent) and Longford (46 per cent).
Average hospitalisation and ICU admission rates in August and September are down significantly from the levels recorded when the third wave of infections peaked in February.