Coronavirus: Restrictions may return soon after Christmas amid sharp rise in Covid-19 infections
Pubs and restaurants could close by December 28th as Nphet notes outbreaks in workplaces, Christmas parties and funerals
The Government is expected to look at reintroducing some restrictions as early as December 28th after warnings from public health experts that infections from Covid-19 have begun to rise sharply.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said on Thursday night the anticipated period of relaxed restrictions – which begins on Friday – would be shortened after warnings from the National Public Health Emergency Team and a meeting with the chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan.
Officials said no decisions would be taken by the Government until next week, but there was a growing expectation that restaurants and pubs that serve food, which have been open since the start of December, would be closed again in the days after Christmas.
The rules on home visits are also likely to be tightened, with visitors from just one other household permitted, instead of three households from Friday. It is understood there is great concern among public health experts about possible infections on New Year’s Eve and that pubs and restaurants could be closed in the days before that, with December 28th mentioned as a possible date.
The move comes after Nphet announced 484 new cases of Covid-19 on Thursday night and a further three deaths.
The reproduction number, a measure of how many other people a case infects, now stands at between 1.1 and 1.3, according to Prof Philip Nolan, chair of the Nphet epidemiological modelling advisory group.
If this continues, there could be 700-1,200 cases a day by the second week in January, he said.
The level of hospitalisations, however, remains relatively low. On Thursday afternoon, there were 200 Covid-19 patients in hospital, including 31 in ICU. There were 30 additional hospitalisations in the past 24 hours.
But Dr Holohan said the virus was spreading throughout the country, in all age groups.
“We are now getting reports of substantial outbreaks in social settings, including workplace settings, Christmas parties and funerals. I cannot stress enough how important it is to limit your interactions now. The consequences of not doing so will be exponential growth in January, a substantial increase in hospitalisations and risk to life.”
Those intending to visit older relatives next week need to reduce their contacts now, Prof Martin Cormican, the Health Service Executive’s national lead for infection control, warned.
“If you’re taking risks this weekend, and you’re visiting older relatives next week, you are putting their lives at risk,” he said.
Eye on Europe
“Only meet people indoors who you trust with your life,” he said. “When they arrive, welcome them with alcohol. This time it will be hand gel.”
While a growth in cases was not unexpected after restrictions were lifted earlier this month, it is understood that the warnings from the public health experts have been growing starker in recent days.
Ministers are also watching developments in Europe, where many countries are heading into another lockdown as infections soar. On Thursday, the Northern Ireland executive also announced that another lockdown would commence next week. Once shops, bars and restaurants close for Christmas they will not reopen until February, the executive said.
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill described the situation as “quite dire”.
The situation in the North’s health service continued to deteriorate. Paramedics from the Republic’s National Ambulance Service have been asked to help out their colleagues in Northern Ireland due to the escalating pressures on the service there.
A number of crews are expected to work in Belfast and other cities in the North as high numbers of virus cases put hospitals under increasing strain.
Northern Ireland recorded a further 12 Covid-related deaths and 656 positive cases on Thursday.
The Government will also consider a recommendation from Nphet that inter-county travel be restricted after Christmas and before New Year’s Eve, and that people be asked to stay in their county again to prevent further spread of Covid-19 in light of the increase in new cases.
Under the existing plan to relax restrictions over the festive period, people were permitted to travel between counties again from Friday, allowing people to travel to see relatives and loved ones over Christmas.