Covid-19: Fears of restrictions on international Christmas travel

Omicron may now be in Ireland in significant numbers, according to senior figure

Senior Government officials have been warned about the threat from the new Omicron Covid variant, with chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan telling a meeting on Wednesday that the incidence of Covid-19 remains very high and the future trajectory of the new variant was uncertain.

It is understood no new modelling of the virus was presented to the meeting and Dr Holohan did not indicate the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) would propose any further restrictions, although some sources say the latter remains a possibility next week, when public health officials will have further data on the new variant’s spread.

One senior figure said Omicron may now be in Ireland "in significant numbers", after the first case of the variant was confirmed here recently.

Hospital Report

There is a fear the situation in Britain could be mirrored here in coming weeks, a threat that could prompt restrictions on non-essential international travel over the Christmas period, according to people familiar with discussions on the issue.


British health secretary Sajid Javid on Wednesday told the House of Commons that infections from the new variant in the UK could hit 1 million by the end of the month, and new restrictions were announced by under-fire prime minister Boris Johnson.

Dr Holohan is understood to have expressed concern at the spread of the new variant in the UK and some European countries. However, there was better news from the US, where vaccine-maker Pfizer said tests had shown the booster dose of its Covid-19 shot offers significantly enhanced protection against Omicron.

Vaccines for children

Meanwhile, the HSE has stepped up plans to roll out Covid-19 vaccines to children aged between five and 11 after the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) approved use in that age group.

Some first doses could be given before Christmas, to children with underlying health conditions or to those living with siblings with complex medical needs or a person who is immunocompromised, before a more general rollout in January.

The HSE is expected to receive its first delivery of doses of the Pfizer children’s vaccine, which is about one-third of the dose given to adults, from EU supplies next week.

On Omicron, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said Wednesday: "There isn't an awful lot that we know about it at this stage. There's some suggestions that it is more transmissible than Delta, but also less severe, and that there is vaccine escape."

Mr Varadkar said a fourth vaccine dose may well be needed for people after their booster doses "because the evidence from Israel is that, unfortunately, immunity wanes from the third dose as well. So it may well be the case that this is a vaccine that particularly people with medical conditions might have to have on an annual basis like we do with the flu."


Mr Varadkar also said “teething problems” with the rollout of booster doses to older age groups would be fixed as he defended Taoiseach Micheál Martin against accusations that he was unfairly blaming the public for the high number of no-shows to appointments for boosters.

The HSE has conceded there were challenges “joining the dots” on those who had received boosters through vaccination centres and those who had received the doses through GPs and pharmacies.

A lag in the reporting of booster doses being given through GPs and pharmacies, due to different IT operating systems, has led to some people being given an appointment for a vaccination centre after having already received their booster dose.

From today, the rollout of boosters is being extended to an estimated 620,000 people in their 50s through appointments and walk-in clinics.

Niac has advised the Government that the general rollout of first vaccines to children aged between five and 11 should be offered in the same priority as boosters for those aged under 40.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent