Covid-19: No new restrictions on cards but public asked to ‘dial back’ socialising

No plans to reimpose restrictions as ‘vaccine wall is holding’, Tánaiste says

The State’s public health team has asked people to “dial” back their socialising over the coming weeks and meet fewer people to reduce a “very high force” of Covid-19 infection in the country.

Prof Philip Nolan, chair of the National Public Health Emergency Team’s modeling group, said that the level of socialisation was “at its greatest level since the pandemic began.”

The National Public Health Emergency Team reported a further 3,174 daily cases, which was an estimate based on test results due to a technical issue with the case-reporting system that has since been fixed.

Hospital Report

Dr Holohan warned that the “force of infection” was “simply too high” across the population with Covid-19 cases rising across all age groups up to 75 and particularly rapidly among those aged between 19 and 24.

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He ruled out a “circuit-breaker” of new restrictions to reduce transmission rates, saying that Nphet was not contemplating “additional and wider measures” at this point.

These comments were echoed by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar earlier on Wednesday, who also said there are no plans to reimpose restrictions at present as Covid-19 cases are not translating into hospitalisations in the same way they were before.

“We do have high case levels, but the vaccine wall is holding. The number of people in hospital is high and the number of people in ICU is high but it’s more or less where we would have expected it to be at this stage given the projections so it’s a case of hold firm and stick with the plan.”

He said there was a significant rise in case numbers amongst primary school children and young people aged between 18 and 24.

“So thankfully, that is not turning into a big increase the number of people in hospital actually that’s pretty stable at the moment. And thankfully the number in ICU is pretty stable at the moment.”

He said that 3000 cases a day or 4000 cases a day “doesn’t mean what it meant last year or last winter, because the vaccine wall is holding, and we’ll never make a decision just based on case numbers.

“We’ll always have regard to other factors, including the number of people in hospital, the number of people needing ICU care that is stable at the moment. So it’s a case of sticking with the plan and staying the course.”

‘Things can go rapidly badly wrong’

Prof Nolan said that Nphet had not seen case counts running as high as they are currently, averaging 2,600 per day, since the third wave in January - the worst period of the pandemic.

He warned that unless public actions bring infections down in the coming weeks, the country was “going to struggle to control this virus for months to come through our winter.”

He expressed concern that mortality rate was likely to increase because of the large number of infections recorded over the past two weeks.

“Running along at 3,000, 4,000, 5,000 cases a day every day puts a very substantial cohort of people at risk day after day after day,” he said.

He said there had been an “unrelenting” increase in the number of positive Covid-19 tests and that the high number of hospital admissions, running at an average of 60 a day, was “of concern.”

Nphet modelling estimates that there will be be 35 hospital admissions for every 1,000 cases.

Pointing to an uncertain period ahead, Prof Nolan said that it was very hard to say when cases would peak and start to decline, as waning vaccine immunity has not been built into models yet.

“Things can go rapidly badly wrong from a high force of infection,” he said.

For the first time since a majority of the population has been vaccinated, Nphet has asked people to cut down on their social contacts and “ration” their “discretionary activities.”

Prof Nolan said that reducing social contacts by 30 to 40 per cent and being more careful in each of those contacts would help reduce transmission.

“If you are planing to see 15 to 20 people next week, it would be much better to see eight, nine or 10,” he said.

Dr Holohan urged people to make a personal risk assessment on their activities.

Going to a nightclub was “a high-risk activity” and that clubbing every second or third night amounted ot “too high a level of mixing” when once every 10 days or every fortnight was safer based on Covid’s incubation period, he said.

He noted that one in five of the 18- to 30-year-old age group has yet to be vaccinated.

Dr Holohan urged businesses to do more on public health measures, noting that market research company Amarach found that one in four people visiting hospitality last weekend did not have their Covid-19 vaccination cert checked.

Prof Martin Cormican, clinical lead on infection control at the HSE, said that it was keeping an open mind on introducing antigen testing in schools and that if the evidence showed it kept children safer, then it would accept that, even though testing be “unpleasant” for children.

Prof Nolan pointed to the protective benefit of vaccines, saying that it was turned off overnight, there would be more than 10,000 daily and this would quadruple to an “unimaginable number” within days, with infected people each infecting between five and eight others.

Separately, Minister for Tourism Catherine Martin said people could not point at one sector as the reason behind the increase in case numbers this autumn.

Asked if the reopening of nightclubs had had an influence on numbers, she said that the Government had adopted a “belts and braces” approach to the easing of restrictions on the late night, and live, entertainment sectors.

She said that the guidelines on queuing and on advance purchases of tickets were put in place in the interests of public health.

“We said there would be a review after three weeks and there will be a review and engagement will continue with the sector,” she said.

She said she agreed with Tánaiste Leo Varadkar that he did not want to impose restrictions at this moment in time .

Ms Martin was speaking at an event to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Irish language TV station, TG4.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

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

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times