Rising cases leave State in ‘fragile’ place in Covid battle, Taoiseach says

Government expresses optimism easing of EU-UK row will fast-track delivery of more vaccines

 Taoiseach Micheál Martin has raised concerns about a 42% week-on-week increase in the numbers referred for Covid-19 testing. File photograph: Julien Behal/PA Wire

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has raised concerns about a 42% week-on-week increase in the numbers referred for Covid-19 testing. File photograph: Julien Behal/PA Wire

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Rising Covid-19 infections and a sharp increase in the number of people being sent for testing for coronavirus has left progress against the disease in a “fragile” state, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said.

Mr Martin raised concerns at the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting on Wednesday night about a 42 per cent week-on-week increase in the numbers referred for testing on Tuesday.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar meanwhile told the weekly parliamentary party meeting of Fine Gael that the rise in case numbers was a “definite cause of concern”.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) reported 683 new Covid-19 infections in the State on Wednesday, marking the ninth day that the seven-day average of new cases has increased since March 10th.

Both leaders came under pressure from party members, facing calls to end national lockdowns in favour of local restrictions, as well as for relaxation of rules on religious services, the lifting of the 5km travel limit and more certainty on when restrictions could be eased as vaccines supplies stabilised.

The Government will make a decision on the restrictions that will be in place after April 5th next Tuesday. Nphet on Wednesday deferred a key meeting on restrictions until next Monday due to the changing situation in relation to infections.

Outdoor activity

Mr Martin informed his party that any easing of restrictions would emphasise outdoor activity.

Mr Varadkar told his party meeting that it is hard to plan long-term to deal with Covid-19 because of the potential for reinfections, the existence of virus variants and uncertainty in relation to immunity.

Senior Government sources have described the State’s current situation as precarious, with one saying that cases could rise dramatically at the “flick of a switch”.

However, Government figures expressed optimism on Wednesday night that the defusing of a dispute on Covid-19 vaccine supplies between the EU and the UK might help fast-track the delivery of much-needed vaccines into the State.

The EU and UK may agree to share vaccine doses after tensions between the two sides eased following a joint declaration to work together to keep supplies flowing amid a global scramble for doses.

“We are all facing the same pandemic and the third wave makes co-operation between the EU and UK even more important,” they said in their statement issued on Wednesday night.

“Given our interdependencies, we are working on specific steps we can take – in the short, medium, and long term – to create a win-win situation and expand vaccine supply for all our citizens.”

The statement came after Brussels announced plans to tighten controls on vaccine exports to some countries, raising concerns in Britain that their vaccine deliveries could be hit, as the UK relies on the EU as a vaccine source, particularly of Pfizer jabs.

Virtual summit

Vaccine production and supplies will dominate a virtual summit of EU leaders attended by the Taoiseach on Thursday and Friday.

In domestic efforts to suppress Covid-19, the HSE said it would open more “walk-in” testing centres in infection hotspots to catch asymptomatic cases.

“The prevalence rate can change quite quickly. We are definitely talking about where it might be appropriate to go next,” said the HSE’s lead on testing and tracing, Niamh O’Beirne.

Five new no-appointment test centres were due to open on Thursday, four in Dublin and one in Tullamore, to encourage more people to be tested and to target infections where people have no symptoms.

The centres will operate for a week, from 11am to 7pm every day. They are targeting areas where there are high levels of infections and people who may not have, or be willing to contact, a GP.

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