Extending Level 5 cannot be ruled out as Covid-19 evolves, Taoiseach says

Holohan says figures illustrate that people must adhere to public health restrictions

There are 1,949 people in hospital with Covid-19 and 214 people in intensive care, according to the Covid-19 data hub. File photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

There are 1,949 people in hospital with Covid-19 and 214 people in intensive care, according to the Covid-19 data hub. File photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

Bars and restaurants could remain closed until May and nothing can be ruled out in terms of lifting restrictions as Covid-19 evolves, Taoiseach Micheál Martin warned today.

Predictions cannot be made “that far out” as the virus changes, Mr Martin said on Virgin Media News on Thursday, but added: “I am not ruling it out.”

The current Level 5 restrictions were initially imposed until the end of January but are expected to be extended into February.

The Cabinet will next week move to extend Level 5 restrictions until late February, while schools and construction will be looked at differently as they are regarded as essential, the Taoiseach said.

Chief executive of the Restaurants Association of Ireland, Adrian Cummins, said the key date for the industry was now the bank holiday weekend at the start of May.

Mr Cummins said by that stage the sector would effectively have the status of a start-up and there would need to be recapitalisation and debt forgiveness.

While the number of daily cases of Covid-19 in the Republic have fallen from highs of more than 8,000, the level of infections and deaths remains a huge concern and the public health system remains under severe pressure with thousands of staff unavailable due to the virus or being a close contact.

There are 1,949 people in hospital with Covid-19 and 214 people in intensive care (ICU), according to the Covid-19 data hub.

Vaccination

The Government has a plan to ramp up vaccinations when more supplies become available, Mr Martin said, while Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly confirmed 121,900 vaccines have been given to frontline healthcare workers and residents and staff in nursing homes.

Mr Martin said the expected availability of other vaccines, such as AstraZeneca, Johnson&Johnson and Moderna, from spring would help accelerate the programme. The priority in the next stages of vaccination by March would be the over 70s as targeting that group will help reduce the number of mortalities and serious illness, he added.

“By the latter part of the first half of the year we will have plenty of vaccines coming in. The issue then will be the administration of them,” he said.

He acknowledged that monitoring incoming passengers to Ireland represented a challenge and a difficulty. Referring to the authorities contacting an estimated 1,300 Brazilian passengers who arrived in recent weeks, he said quite a number had come forward and had been assessed.

“The traffic has gone way down. I mean international traffic is over really, bar very small numbers,” he said, adding: “I’m not underplaying it - I do think there’s an issue there that we have to keep very vigilant on.”

Extended restrictions

With thoughts turned to an extension of the lockdown Prof Tomás Ryan from the school of biochemistry and immunology at Trinity College Dublin said too many people were moving around and this needed to be addressed.

Prof Ryan told Newstalk Breakfast the Government should reduce the 5km limit to 2km and consider narrowing the definition of essential workers.

He also suggested that mass antigen testing - which would tell if someone was infectious - for serial testing of healthcare workers should also be considered.

It was unknown how many infections were coming through hospitals and into the communities and a timeframe for Level 5 restrictions was not the main issue, he said.

“The crucial thing is not about how long we need to be in restrictions, I think when we ask that question we’re setting ourselves up for the same problems as before,” he said. “The question needs to be when can we get control of the virus. When we get control of the virus, then we can start to open up.”

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said the daily figures illustrate that people must continue to adhere to public health restrictions as a further 61 deaths and 2,488 cases of the virus were reported on Wednesday.

“The virus spreads through close contacts, through the congregation of people. We need everyone to stay at home as much as possible and to work from home, where possible. You should not meet up with friends or loved ones, unless you are caring for them,” Dr Holohan said.

Deteriorating situation

Daily operations figures from the Health Service Executive show that Cork University Hospital had the highest number of Covid-19 patients on Wednesday evening, followed by University Hospital Limerick and St Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin. There were 31 ICU beds available for adults and seven for children as of 6.30pm on Wednesday.

Chief executive of the Saolta hospital group, Tony Canavan, has said the situation at Galway University Hospital deteriorated overnight and the hospital is now under significant pressure, with 133 Covid-19 patients - 17 in ICU. There was still an upward curve in the number of cases, he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland on Thursday, and in recent days the hospital moved to increase capacity in intensive care beds as required. However, he cautioned that this was dependent on the availability of staff, with 10 per cent out of work due to Covid-19.

Meanwhile, public health expert Dr Gabriel Scally has reiterated his support for a zero-Covid approach from Government, but says it would require a lot of planning now. Moving from Level 5 to Level 3 restrictions in December had not been a sensible decision, he told RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show, warning that the Government cannot “take the foot off the brake” with regard to restrictions “any time soon”.

There has now been a total of 2,768 Covid-19 related deaths in the Republic, while the number of confirmed cases stands at 179,324.

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