Senior Ministers were given a stark warning on the trajectory of Covid-19 on Tuesday night, with no guarantees that a coming peak in infection would rapidly fall away in the run-in to Christmas.
The Cabinet subcommittee on Covid-19 met on Tuesday evening and were told that while there were some grounds for optimism – including a flattening incidence of Covid among the over-80s, which could be thanks to booster shots – the peak of the current wave could still see between 2,500 cases and 4,000-5,000 per day.
This could see 800-1,000 people in hospital at the peak, with 150-200 requiring admission to intensive care. Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly gave what sources said was a "stark" presentation, outlining how cases were as high now as at any point apart from the peak of the January wave. Numbers in ICU are up 22 per cent in the last week, and numbers in hospital are up 41 per cent in the last fortnight, the committee was told.
Sources said there was “no talk of reimposing restrictions but a general concern that a peak and rapid fall cannot be assumed”.
“We might peak but then plateau again at 2,000 a day,” a source said.
On Tuesday evening, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said he was "increasingly worried about the rising incidence of the disease nationwide".
There were 2,193 new cases of Covid-19 confirmed on Tuesday, with 513 people in hospital with the disease, 97 of whom were in intensive care. Sources believe the trajectory of Covid infection is difficult to predict. There are new variables, including the level of social mixing, vaccine immunity and infection-acquired immunity.
Health Service Executive chief executive Paul Reid is understood to have told the meeting he wants to see booster shots for healthcare workers.
Separately, a vaccine expert warned there would be a large increase in cases until there was a “transmission-blocking vaccine”.
Dr Anne Moore, a vaccine specialist at UCC's school of biochemistry, said vaccines were still very effective at preventing severe disease but it appeared that the initial "bonus" of not transmitting the virus to others decreased over time.
“Vaccinated people over time are spreading as much virus as unvaccinated people and we don’t have a lot of unvaccinated – we have some but not that many – and our [vaccination] rate’s really high.”
She said clean air was now as important as clean water and public investment was required “just as we dug trenches to build sewers”.
Meanwhile, the Government’s plan to require patrons of late pubs and nightclubs to acquire electronic tickets an hour before an event with dancing starts faced a backlash from the sector, which described it as “unworkable”.
Matt McGranahan of the Music and Entertainment Association of Ireland said he was “furious” after being briefed on the Coalition’s plans, accusing the Government of offering “no solutions whatsoever”. The sector has requested a two-week grace period after the regulations are introduced, which sources indicated could be as soon as Wednesday night.
Government sources pushed back against criticism, arguing the sector was reopening amid heightened concern and climbing infection numbers. “Maybe they should read the room a little,” one Coalition source said.