Covid: Martin ‘hopeful’ of progress on easing restrictions as 17,065 new cases reported

Number of patients in hospital rises to 1,023, with 83 of those in intensive care

Taoiseach Micheál Martin: ‘hopeful’ of easing restrictions. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Taoiseach Micheál Martin: ‘hopeful’ of easing restrictions. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

The State’s public health team Nphet will meet next week as the Taoiseach says he is “hopeful” that progress can be made on easing restrictions after that.

Mr Martin said that the 8pm closing time for hospitality and indoor events will be looked at and that consideration will also be given to a package of supports for entertainers.

“We will be looking at hospitality and we’ll be looking at obviously the 8pm restriction as well. With [Minister for Arts] Catherine [Martin] and others across Cabinet, we’re looking at how again can we can continue to support artists and performers.”

“Certainly we are making progress in respect of Covid-19 and in respect of Omicron. It has been a very transmissible variant, which in its own way then makes gatherings potentially challenging,” he said.

“That said, I want to say pay tribute to the sector for their great tolerance and forbearance has kept with it, with many performances during the day and earlier in the day and really trying to innovate around restrictions. The restrictions are very severe on the sector, there’s no point in saying anything else.”

Mr Martin said while he is not yet in a position to say anything definitive on the easing of restrictions , he is hopeful.

“We’re making progress against Omicron. There will be a meeting of Nphet next week and I would hope that we would be in a position to move forward in terms of the current restrictions.

“We are hopeful in terms of the progress we’ve made to date.”

Another 17,065 cases of Covid-19 in the State were reported by Nphet on Friday. The number in hospital with Covid-19 stood at 1,023, of whom 83 are in ICU, according to the latest figures released by the public health team. The number of Covid patients in hospital had increased by 12 since Thursday.

Responding to the latest figures, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan hailed the “exceptional” level of take-up of booster Covid-19 vaccines in the State.

“To date, 59 per cent of the adult population here have availed of a booster dose, compared with just 32 per cent across Europe,” he said.

“[Covid vaccines] have provided significant protection to the most vulnerable and to our health system in recent weeks, with the booster dose restoring protection against severe disease to 90 per cent. At present, just 20 per cent of people in intensive care have been boosted,” he added.

Hospital peak

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said it is unlikely there will be a decision on the easing of Covid-19 restrictions until it becomes clear that the numbers in hospitals have peaked.

Mr Varadkar, speaking at the new Aldi headquarters in Naas, Co Kildare, said the focus on Covid-19 data had shifted from the number of cases to the number of people in hospitals and in ICU.

“It’s not yet clear that the numbers in hospitals have peaked. It is still over 1,000 and in ICU there are just under 100.

“So I think we’d like to see hospital numbers and ICU numbers falling before we feel comfortable about easing restrictions.

He said the current plan would see the current restrictions remain in place until the 31st of January.

He said Nphet was meeting on January 20th and he expected the group to give advice to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly that evening that will allow the Government to make a decision.

He said on that basis, the hospitality industry would get decent advance notice about easing restrictions.

Self-isolating

Meanwhile deputy chief medical officer Ronan Glynn has defended changes in the rules around self-isolating for close contacts which come into force today amid concern that they have become too loose. He emphasised that Nphet closely examined and balanced a number of issues before coming to their decision.

In an interview on Today with Claire Byrne, on RTÉ Radio 1, he said that regular changes have been made to advice and guidelines during the pandemic given the ever-evolving situation such a virus presents.

“The latest changes are in light of our evolving understanding of Omicron, the importance of boosters which is reflected in the guidance, the impact that we have seen on society broadly and our health service specifically over the past number of weeks and obviously what the ECDC said and also other international guidance.

“There are certainly reasons for optimism and hope and we see across Europe that a number of countries have experienced a similar picture to ourselves in that the numbers in ICU have remained stable.

“But I think it is a little too early for us to conclude on that at this point. We all want that to be true and we all want to move on from this but from our perspective we need another week’s worth of data.”

The North’s Department of Health reported that a further four people who previously tested positive for Covid-19 in Northern Ireland have died.

Another 2,954 confirmed cases of the virus were also recorded in the North in its latest 24-hour reporting period. On Friday morning, there were 402 Covid-positive patients in the North’s hospitals, with 30 in intensive care.

‘Huge impact’

Meanwhile, Anne O’ Connor, chief operations officer with the HSE, told The Pat Kenny show on Newstalk that Ireland has 1,023 confirmed Covid cases in hospitals as opposed to 1,011 yesterday.

Ms O’Connor said about 70 per cent of patients in that number were hospitalised because of Covid-related illness. The other 30 per cent are patients who presented “perhaps with a broken leg” but were also found to have Covid.

Ms O’Connor spoke of the “huge impact” the cases of Covid are having on the overall hospital system.

She cited the example of Galway University Hospital which has 15 medical and surgical wards, three of which are now in effect “Covid wards” for Covid admissions.

“They have another four wards which are impacted by Covid where they have outbreaks. It is important for people to understand that from our perspective the hospital runs like a whole system. This hampers our ability to discharge people.

“For people who are in wards with outbreaks they can’t go on to nursing homes. We don’t have the same freedom to discharge.”