Covid-19: No new restrictions says Taoiseach as 23,125 new cases reported

Health advice unchanged but calls for public to consider behaviour with regard to masks

Taoiseach Micheal Martin has discussed the rise in cases with Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan in recent days but said there is no change in the Government's advice on Covid-19. The current wave does not require further restrictions, he said, but he advised that people wear masks in "crowded situations".

His comments came as a further 23,125 Covid-19 cases were reported by the Department of Health on Thursday, including 14,215 who registered a positive antigen test with the HSE.

There were 1,425 patients with Covid-19 in hospital. Of those, 53 patients were intensive care units, two fewer than on Wednesday.

Mr Martin said that the CMO was “very clear that the advice stays. He hasn’t withdrawn advice in terms of the desirability of wearing masks in crowded situations.


“But we had no basis for maintaining the legal requirement to do so given the public health advice we had received at the time . . . But I think people should take caution, should wear masks in crowded situations.”

Mr Martin said that the current wave “seems to be less impactful, less virulent, I think the CMO is of that view, than earlier variants and that it doesn’t justify further economic restrictions, that’s very clear from the Chief Medical Officer.”

Asked how he was a week after testing positive for Covid, Mr Martin said: “I’m feeling very good, thank you very much. I seem to have been lucky, to get a lighter dose of the strain, thankful for that. The message there is vaccination. I’ve no doubt that vaccination prevented me from getting more severely ill as a result of Covid. That’s the message I’d want to send out to people.”

Critical work

Ealier, the Health Service Executive (HSE) advised hospitals to cancel elective procedures and focus on critical work, such as cancer care and emergency departments, as the health service comes under increased pressure due to Covid-19.

Chief operations officer Anne O’Connor said the HSE was left with no other option and the recommendation was “the last resort for us”, as hospital admissions and staff absences rise.

New Covid infections have risen to near-record daily highs driven by the more transmissible Omicron BA.2 subvariant.

Given the numbers, immunology expert professor Christine Loscher warned public behaviour needs to change while the new Covid sub variant BA2 is reaching its peak.

The public responds well when mitigation measures are mandatory, she told RTÉ radio's Today with Claire Byrne show. If people are just "advised" they will not necessarily do so.

Prof Loscher pointed out that there is a threefold reason for the current surge – firstly, the new BA2 subvariant is three times more transmissible “once it gets into a household it is really difficult to escape it”.

Secondly, now that restrictions have been lifted there are more opportunities for the virus to spread to people who are not wearing masks.

Thirdly, people are congregating indoors which is helping the surge. People seem to think other than on public transport it is not necessary to wear masks, she said.

“The message needs to be altered.” The advice should be that masks need to be worn indoors at all times, she said.

The issue now is not the severity of the symptoms of the BA2 variant, the sheer volume of cases is having an impact on the hospital system, she warned.

“Now it’s really important to get the message across.”

Prof Loscher said the current surge would pass as it had done in other European countries, but behaviour needed to change now while the virus was “peaking”.

The percentage of Covid cases aged over 55 is also a cause for concern, she said.

Hospital admissions

There had been 225 people admitted to hospital with Covid-19 over the previous 24 hours, the highest number in a day since the pandemic began. The total number of patients with Covid had been 1,338 at 8pm on Wednesday night, an increase of 29 per cent over the past seven days, Ms O'Connor told RTÉ radio's Morning Ireland.

“A lot of [hospital] beds are being taken up with Covid,” she said, for example, in University Kerry Hospital where a third of beds are occupied by patients with the virus.

Half of the patients with Covid had been admitted with other conditions and were subsequently found to have the virus when tested, she said, but that did not make a difference as they were still infectious and had to be admitted to a Covid ward which put “significant demand” on hospitals.

There were 5,200 health service staff absent from work because of Covid, Ms O’Connor said, meaning entire teams were absent in some hospitals and procedures were being cancelled.

“This really is a capacity challenge. It is a real concern for us today,” she said.

Ms O’Connor said she had never known so many people with Covid: “We have to get through the next few weeks and hope that the numbers improve.”

The HSE will telephone patients to let them know if their procedure is going to be cancelled, Ms O’Connor said, adding: “We will do everything to get back to full service.”

On Wednesday Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said chief medical officer Tony Holohan had sent a proposal to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly for a new advisory body to replace the National Public Health Emergency Team. He said it had not yet been appointed but he understood this was "imminent".

When asked if he was worried that renewed restrictions would be warranted given the rise in infections, Mr Varadkar said: “If that advice were to come, it would come from the chief medical officer who is still in situ and obviously still commands his role



The assistant general secretary (designate) of the National Bus and Rail Union, Tom O'Connor, has repeated a call by the union for a return of mandatory mask-wearing on public transport.

Mr O’Connor told Morning Ireland that the union had contacted the Taoiseach on January 20th on the issue and their concerns were growing as the number of cases of Covid-19 increased.

Its members had no choice about using public transport, he said, while commuters could decide whether to take it or not.

Staff absences due to Covid were the same as the “societal norm” which was 5-10 per cent, Mr O’Connor said when asked about staffing levels.

He said only 20 per cent of commuters were wearing masks on public transport, as well as some drivers, though they were not mandatory.

Ventilation remained an issue on public transport, he added. While there were signs on Dublin Bus requesting that windows be left open, the issue was not policed, meanwhile,windows could not be opened on trains and intercity coaches, he said.