Coronavirus: Coalition expected to sanction aspects of scheduled reopening

Cabinet to reflect on advice relayed from National Public Health Emergency Team

Medical guidance from the National Public Health Emergency Team was discussed by the three party leaders at Government Buildings late last night

Medical guidance from the National Public Health Emergency Team was discussed by the three party leaders at Government Buildings late last night

 

The Government is this morning expected to give the go ahead to some aspects of Friday’s scheduled reopening but others are likely to be postponed as new Covid-19 cases continue to surge.

The Cabinet will this morning consider the advice relayed from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) after its meeting yesterday, which was still being discussed by the three party leaders at Government Buildings late last night.

However, all indications were that Ministers will decide to move forward cautiously with the reopening while extending some restrictions, such as the use of Covid passes in hospitality and the use of masks.

Insiders said the Government wanted to stick to as much of the reopening plan as possible but the surge in cases in recent weeks, and the growth in numbers hospitalised, continues to cause anxiety. However, sources familiar with discussions at the highest levels said there was “no panic” among health chiefs as there was no sense – as there was last year, before the vaccination programme – that the disease could run out of control and overwhelm the health service.

Nonetheless, there is growing worry of the effect that the current growth in cases will have on existing waiting lists for treatment and “trolley numbers” – the count of those admitted to hospital emergency departments but awaiting a hospital bed.

Ministers are also likely to focus on the need to increases compliance with the requirement for Covid-19 certificates for indoor hospitality and mask wearing.

Overall, there is concern in Government rather than alarm, though some sources expressed puzzlement about why the recent sudden growth in infections was not predicted by public health experts. “They don’t seem to be able predict anything,” said one source.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin yesterday said the continued use of digital Covid certs and mask wearing was “certainly on the agenda”.

He was speaking to reporters in Sligo in advance of last night’s discussions. Earlier, Health Service Executive chief Paul Reid said it was “time to hit the reset button”. He said unvaccinated people were “at a higher risk” and he urged them to “do the right thing”. Mr Reid also said “for the rest of us, [it is] time to do the basics well again”.

Infections on Monday

Government is likely to urge hospitality businesses to increase compliance with the requirements for Covid certificates and strictly enforce mask wearing and social distancing rules.

There were 1,578 new cases of Covid-19 reported on Monday with 484 in hospital, up 25, and 73 in intensive care. The five-day moving average of cases was 1,736, according to a statement from Nphet.

There is a strong push in Government, meanwhile, to provide clear guidance to the public on the role of antigen testing. One senior source said it was not a “panacea” but that the tests should be in much wider use than is the case.

It comes after Mr Martin said he was a “strong believer in antigen testing” and its further use would be considered by the Government over the next 24 hours.

“I am a strong believer in antigen testing. Our public health officials have a more moderated perspective on the value of antigen testing. But some sectors have rolled out antigen testing and that is something that the Government will be considering as well over the next 24 hours”.

New figures on HSE test results showed that coronavirus cases have been increasing across all age groups with the 55- to 64-year-old age group recording the highest positivity rate of 11.7 per cent for the week to October 17th, an increase from 10.5 per cent a week earlier.

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