Four-step Covid-19 plan drafted to see Ireland out of pandemic

Provision for emergency protocol if new variant of concern threatened public health

The Government has discussed a four-step plan for living with Covid-19 which would see an emergency protocol established if a new variant of concern threatens public health.

The Cabinet Covid-19 subcommittee met on Monday afternoon and heard an upbeat assessment from public-health officials about the current trajectory of the virus. Ministers also discussed the plan for tackling Covid-19 up until this winter and beyond.

Sources said there will be four elements to the plan. The first involves an immediate phase in which a continuing focus is placed on meeting the current Covid-19 demands in terms of hospital care, vaccinations and testing and trace.

The second part of the plan involves a transition phase that will see PCR testing and vaccinations scaled back to a significant degree, with the dismantling of a workforce of thousands in vaccination centres, test and trace and labs.


A stock of antigen tests will likely be kept by the health service. One senior source said it is hoped that many of these staff can be reabsorbed into the health service or that some would consider new positions within the Health Service Executive.

Annual vaccine

The third part of the plan will look at a longer-term way of living with Covid-19 in the years to come. This will likely see the public offered a yearly vaccine, possibly in the winter, although the National Immunisation Advisory Committee has yet to give advice to Government on a fourth dose. It is expected that advice will be received in a matter of weeks.

Under the fourth part in the plan, an emergency protocol will be set up which will see a rapid increase in vaccination stocks in case of the emergence of a variant of concern. Work is advanced on a system for quickly ramping up the workforce capacity as well as lab capacity and testing and tracing should an emergency situation arise in the coming months and years.

Discussions are also still ongoing on setting up a successor to the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) which has wound down. It is likely that a smaller multidisciplinary group will be set up to monitor the situation for the remainder of the year, with experts from science, medicine and behavioural economics to feature.

The deputy chief medical officer Ronan Glynn updated Ministers on the current trajectory of the virus around the country. Sources said the assessment was upbeat overall. Ministers were told that the trajectory of the disease is stable and that the underlying indicators are still good while severe illness is low.

There was also a conversation on the Omicron subvariant. “The view is that it is more transmissible, but there is no evidence yet to say that it is more severe,” a source said.

There is also ongoing concern about outbreaks in nursing homes.

Earlier, Taoiseach Micheál Martin unveiled a portrait of Nphet member Prof Mary Horgan, the first female president of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland in its 368-year history. An infectious diseases consultant in Cork University Hospital, Prof Horgan also led the State’s expert advisory group on antigen testing.

Another 2,277 PCR-confirmed cases of Covid-19 were reported in the State on Monday, while another 3,642 people have registered a positive antigen test through the HSE portal, the Nphet said.

As of 8am on Monday, 610 Covid-19 patients were hospitalised, of whom 47 were in ICU. One Government figure said on Monday that about half of the 610 had been admitted to hospital because of Covid-19, while the other half were found to have Covid-19 after being admitted for other reasons.

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times