Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said the continued use of digital Covid certs and mask-wearing was “certainly on the agenda” as the Government is set to decide on lifting further restrictions amid rising hospitalisations.
The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) met on Monday afternoon to consider its advice on Friday’s planned easing of Covid-19 restrictions amid a rise in cases.
There were 1,578 new cases of Covid-19 reported on Monday with 484 in hospital, up 25, and 73 in ICU. The five-day moving average of cases was 1,736, according to a statement from Nphet.
Mr Martin said he was a “strong believer in antigen testing”and its further use would be considered by the Government over the next 24 hours.
“I am a strong believer in antigen testing. Our public health officials have a more moderated perspective on the value of antigen testing. But some sectors have rolled out antigen testing and that is something that the Government will be considering as well over the next 24 hours”.
Speaking in Co Sligo, Mr Martin said he did not accept suggestions that this week was Groundhog Day with people once more facing uncertainty.
“It is not Groundhog Day. I do not accept that presentation that has been made because of the fact that the economy has rebounded very significantly and in a very fast way because of the reopening of society that has occurred over the last number of months and that has to be acknowledged.
“But Covid has many twists and turns. We are witnessing another now at this particular time which will give us pause for reflection”.
The Taoiseach acknowledged that the rise in hospitalisations and admissions to intensive care units is causing concern but said the Government wanted to provide clarity on Tuesday on the easing of restrictions.
Mr Martin insisted that it had not been a mistake to herald October 22nd as a date for the lifting of almost all restrictions. “Back then we were on a very good trajectory and up to last week public health (advice) was positive enough about the ways things were going”.
“This isn’t an absence of clarity – essentially it’s that Covid is behaving in a certain way. It has caused an increase in cases, an increase in the number of hospitalisations. So we do have do give it consideration”, he told reporters. He said advice by public health officials would inform Cabinet decisions on Tuesday.
Mr Martin said there was no conflict between the deputy chief medical officer and the Government on remote working after Ronan Glynn on Friday urged people to work from home for autumn and winter.
He said the Government announced in September that there would be a phased return to the workplace . “That was government policy as stated in September following decisions taken by Government. There has been no change yet. “ He said the government would get advice today from Nphet “and we will consider that advice tomorrow”.
The Taoiseach was in Co Sligo to officially open the new €140 N4 Collooney to Castlebaldwin road project which has replaced a stretch of road on which 30 people died over three decades.
Earlier, the HSE chief executive has said it is “time to hit the reset button. Paul Reid joined other health experts in calling for caution on the planned lifting of restrictions.
On Friday, almost all remaining Covid-19 restrictions are due to be lifted, including requirements for social distancing and restrictions on how many people can attend indoor venues.
In a post on social media Mr Reid said it was “time to hit the reset button”. He said unvaccinated people were “at a higher risk” and he urged them to “do the right thing”. Mr Reid also said “for the rest of us, [it is] time to do the basics well again”.
Mr Reid said there were 482 Covid-19 patients in hospital, with 74 in intensive care on Monday morning. On Sunday night, just 11 ICU adult beds and one paediatric ICU bed were available in hospitals across the State as Covid-19 patients accounted for more than a quarter of total capacity. Seventeen hospitals had no free ICU beds.
Nphet met on Monday afternoon to consider its advice on reopening, while the Government will also be discussing how vaccine certificates, booster shots and Covid testing can be used as it comes to its decision. While the Government is keen to expand the vaccine booster programme to more vulnerable groups the “green light” from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) is awaited on this. 0
Ministers will make decisions on the next phases of reopening following Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting.
Mr Reid made his comments on Twitter after the Government chief scientific adviser Prof Mark Ferguson said those planning to attend nightclubs when all remaining restrictions are lifted must be vaccinated “for their own protection”.
Prof Ferguson said if nightclubs reopen they should have good ventilation, ideally including an air exchange system which disinfects air, possibly by fitting UV lights to filters.
Prof Ferguson also advocated the use of antigen testing which he called “really useful” as it provided “an extra layer of protection”.While he said it had a role in combating Covid-19, he said it was not a solution and pointed out that antigen testing in the Netherlands had not been successful.
On Monday afternoon, infectious diseases expert Prof Sam McConkey added his voice to those calling for caution in the reopening process. Prof McConkey said the “shocking and disappointing” rise in Covid-19 hospitalisations and ICU admissions were disrupting regular hospital services.
A quarter of the country’s ICU beds were now being used to treat people with Covid-19, he told RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show which disrupted “regular care” for those who were very ill.
This was not a good situation to be in, he warned, as flu season loomed.
October 22nd should not be viewed as “freedom day” because measures such as ventilation, mask wearing and physical distancing needed to continue in society.
According to the HSE Covid Tracker App in the last 24 hours there have been 29 hospital admissions; 14 hospital discharges; seven ICU admissions and just two ICU discharges. In the last seven days tests of 142,364 people revealed a positivity rate of 8.4 per cent.
Infectious diseases expert Prof Paddy Mallon said that some restrictive measures would be needed to contain the Covid-19 virus and allow a return to “normal” life .
Society was going to have to be innovative and he was supportive of everything that could enable people to live a more normal life, he told Newstalk Breakfast.
But Prof Mallon questioned why Ireland remained an “outlier” when it came to antigen testing. Testing and treatment were two key elements in the fight against a virus as even vaccinated people could still contract and transmit the virus. Widespread antigen testing would give added protection, he said.
Prof Mallon said the solution was not “all or nothing” with regard to restrictions and there needed to be a broader dialogue about the measures and the need to continue them in daily life to contain the virus.
Also commenting on Twitter on Monday morning, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said it was “really great to hear of a substantial increase at walk-in vaccine centres at the weekend, while 3,000+ registered for the first time last week”.
He said booster vaccines were continuing among those aged 65 plus in long term residential care, and those aged over 80 years in the community.
“College pop-ups continue also,” he added.
Meanwhile in Northern Ireland, four further deaths of patients who had previously tested positive for Covid-19 have been reported. The North’s Department of Health said there were also another 966 new cases of the virus in the last 24-hour reporting period. – Additional reporting: PA