Another 6,843 PCR-confirmed cases of Covid-19 have been reported in the State, while 5,295 more people have registered a positive antigen test through the HSE portal.
The figures were among the latest Covid-19 data reported by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), released on Wednesday evening. Nphet also said that another 52 deaths from Covid-19 had been notified in the past week, bringing the State’s total official Covid death toll to 6,087.
As of 8am on Wednesday, there were 910 Covid-19 patients in the State’s hospitals, of whom 90 were in ICU.
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan has said he thinks it will be towards the end of next week when Covid-19 restrictions begin to ease, as Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said it is too early to say if an annual vaccine would be required.
Mr Ryan cautioned that the severity of the Omicron variant should not be downplayed as there were 910 Covid patients in hospital on Wednesday, with 90 of those in ICU.
Mr Ryan said Ministers were likely to meet this Friday to consider anticipated updated advice from Nphet, but said this Cabinet meeting may be scheduled for next Tuesday.
This would give the public a few days’ advance notice in relation to the changes, he said on Wednesday. “Towards the end of next week I expect that we will start to see the restrictions start to be lifted,” said Mr Ryan.
Mr Ryan, who is Minister for Transport as well as Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, said he was keen to see a return to social life.
He told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland cultural and artistic activities and attendance at sporting events was important, as was a return to working in offices.
Mr Varadkar said that he hoped within a few months the State may be able to treat this virus as we treat other respiratory viruses.
He said he did not agree with any rules that would require employees to show their vaccine status.
“I would be reluctant to ask employers to ask employees about their vaccine status. Why would they not ask their staff about other vaccines (in that instance)?
“There might be a case with regard to exceptional cases where people are working with immune-compromised people,” he said.
Mr Donnelly said the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) was currently evaluating the merit of a fourth dose of vaccine for vulnerable groups, drawing on evidence from Israel and elsewhere.
He said it was too early to tell if an annual vaccine would be required.
“There are vaccines in development which provide longer immunity. Current vaccines do wane and we have seen the profile of that waning,” he said.
Asked what he would have done if the gathering in the Department of Foreign Affairs two years ago had taken place in his own department, Mr Donnelly said Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney had done “exactly the right thing” in ordering the review.
He would not be drawn on what he would do in similar circumstances saying it would not “be fair or reasonable for me to speculate without getting the facts”.
End of restrictions
Meanwhile, the Labour Party leader Alan Kelly has called for an immediate end to the restrictions on hospitality, saying he did not see the point in waiting any longer.
Speaking on RTÉ radio's Today with Claire Byrne show, Mr Kelly called for any easing of Covid restrictions to be introduced immediately, if the chief medical officer Tony Holohan gives his approval.
Mr Kelly was reacting to comments made by Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan, who said that it could be a week before restrictions were eased to give notice to businesses.
Mr Kelly said businesses should not have to “lose out” on another week, and there could be another shutdown later in the year so that week could be important to a business.
Mr Kelly also called for measures to ensure outdoor events go ahead. He urged a return to indoor-seated events along the lines of requirements last October.
Government sources have said they expect some restrictions to be relaxed from next week.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar on Tuesday evening told a Fine Gael party parliamentary meeting that he hoped March 31st would signal the end of most restrictions.
It is expected that the lifting of restrictions will be phased, and a return to normal hospitality trading hours and an increase in the number of people allowed at weddings and indoor and outdoor events will be first on the agenda.
Nightclubs will open after that.
Meanwhile, a further six people who previously tested positive recently for Covid-19 in Northern Ireland have died, the North’s Department of Health said on Wednesday.
Another 4,451 confirmed cases of the virus were also recorded in the North in its latest 24-hour reporting period. On Wednesday morning, there were 404 Covid-positive patients in the North’s hospitals, with 25 of them in intensive care. Additional reporting: PA