Circuit-breaker lockdowns to slow “concerning” growth in Covid-19 are all but ruled out for now with health chiefs hopeful that safer actions from the public will suppress the virus.
However, Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said on Wednesday a recommendation for some restrictions on society could not ultimately be taken off the table.
There is growing concern among Government figures that public compliance with remaining Covid rules is slipping as more risky activities are inevitably undertaken and sectors are reopened.
Notwithstanding new figures showing a good level of compliance in the hospitality sector over the weekend, data from the ESRI shows the number of locations that people are visiting on average has almost doubled since January, while the number of people who said they always wear masks, socially distance and hand-wash has fallen from more than 60 per cent to 40 per cent.
As the number of Covid patients in intensive care tipped over 100 for the first time since March, Government sources expressed concern about the level of slippage in behaviours such as mask wearing in the community.
The HSE carried out 500 inspections of hospitality businesses – including pubs and nightclubs – over the bank holiday weekend, finding 75 per cent of premises to be fully compliant with rules such as the need for the vaccine pass and social distancing. Some 20 per cent required some further measures to be put in place. Five per cent were found to be non-compliant.
At a briefing from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), Dr Holohan said he did not expect to recommend new restrictions to Government, even if hospital cases reached 700 or 800 in the coming weeks.
However, he said the team would have to consider other recommendations if the public did not return to simple precautionary measures: “We are not going to rule anything out.”
Nphet presented a deteriorating picture around Covid-19, showing a “significant rise” in the number of people being admitted to hospital and a “sharp increase” in ICU admissions. There were six new admissions to ICU on average every day, as the number in critical care reached 101 with 503 people in hospital with the disease.
The number of new cases had risen to more than 2,000 cases a day from 1,100 three weeks ago. Dr Ronan Glynn said last week there were 14,000 new cases of Covid-19, the fourth highest weekly number of new cases, with the three previous highs recorded in the third wave in January.
There were 67 newly-notified deaths in the past week with three to five deaths reported a day on average. A total of 164 deaths have been reported for September and 116 for October.
Dr Glynn said these were “very significant mortality figures” but would “be significantly higher, unfortunately” as more deaths are notified for this period.
Dr Holohan said the pressure Covid was putting on the hospitals was “very significant” and many hospitals were facing “significant challenges”.
Small changes could lead to “significant changes” in transmission but if they didn’t, Nphet would have consider other recommendations to curb the spread, he said.
Asked about the reopening of nightclubs, Dr Holohan said people should “be sensible” if mixing in large gatherings indoors or in clubs and should avoid activities where they may be in contact with vulnerable people.
Separately Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the Government was working on bringing in the use of vaccine passes for hospital visits, considering how to roll out two million rapid antigen tests and looking at offering a new testing regime for people who for medical reasons cannot be vaccinated.