Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan has urged young people who have not yet received a booster Covid-19 vaccine to avoid unneccessary contact with people outside their household over Christmas as cases in the 16 to 34-year-old age group surge.
Speaking as a further 4,799 cases of the virus were confirmed on Monday, Dr Holohan said the level of disease and positivity rate among young adults had “increased sharply” in the last week.
As of 8am on Monday, 467 Covid-19 patients are hospitalised, of which 104 are in ICU.
Dr Holohan said one in four people in the 16 to 34-year-old age group that have taken a PCR test have received a “detected” result.
“This is one of the highest rates since the beginning of the pandemic,” he said.
Dr Holohan said tracking data from the Amárach research body, shows only half of those with symptoms of the virus are isolating.
“This is the single most important piece of basic public health advice – it is vital that you isolate as soon as you experience any symptoms of Covid-19 and arrange a PCR test. Do not meet up with others and put them at risk.”
He also stressed that people do not rely on a negative antigen test as a basis for not isolating.
“Christmas week is an important time for many of us,” Dr Holohan added. “However, it is also a time that presents unique opportunities for Covid to spread because of the possible extent of inter-household and inter-generational mixing. Each of us can take actions this week to protect ourselves and our loved ones, even if this means rethinking plans for the Christmas period, especially if you are not yet boosted or vaccinated.
“As difficult as it may seem, limiting as much as possible your Christmas to small numbers and very close family will protect them.”
Earlier on Monday, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said he hopes people will not be frightened by "record" Covid-19 cases which will be seen in the coming days.
Mr Varadkar on Monday said that because Omicron was so transmissible, a lot of people in hospital may get it but not be in hospital because of it, and there may be a more severe impact on primary care, GP and pharmacy services.
“There will be very high case numbers and I hope people won’t be too afraid to see that because this is a much more transmissible strain of the virus so we will see very high case numbers,” he said.
"But we are hoping and expecting that it won't translate into hospitalisations and ICU admissions and deaths in the extent that it did in previous waves. There are some hopeful signs from South Africa and elsewhere in that regard."
Mr Varadkar said consideration should be given in future to following the example of countries like Denmark and Norway when it came to loosening and tightening restrictions.
Denmark and Norway were potential models to follow, he said. They have had periods for several months where they have had almost no restrictions at all.
Increased numbers of people isolating at home could have an impact on both the private and public sector, Mr Varadkar said, but there were protocols that can be put in place to make sure that essential services continue, at power stations for example.
Schools and boosters
On schools, Mr Varadkar did not foresee them not reopening in January after the Christmas break.
The Tánaiste said the incidence of Covid in schools had peaked and has been falling. There was no case to close the schools early, and schools and colleges would reopen as planned in January, he said. “And if there’s any change to that you’ll hear it from the Minister for Education and no-one else.”
Earlier, Dr Holohan said he envisaged no further lockdown measures if the public adhere to the restrictions that are in place.
Dr Holohan stressed the importance of personal responsibility and called on the public to follow “the spirit and the letter” of the new restrictions.
Dr Holohan told Morning Ireland that it was "simply untrue" to suggest that a meeting is scheduled for December 30th to announce a lockdown.
The head of the HSE’s vaccination campaign Damien McCallion said walk-in clinics will continue this week in a bid to give the booster vaccine to as many as possible.
To date, 1.5 million booster vaccines have been administered, he told Newstalk Breakfast and Morning Ireland, with 300,000 doses given last week alone. On some days more than 50,000 were administered, he said.
Live sector funding
Elsewhere, Minister for Arts Catherine Martin announced a new funding scheme and adjustments to existing supports for the live performance sector, targeting events that were planned for December and January.
Following a meeting between representatives of the sector, Ms Martin and Dr Holohan, applications were opened for a €20 million fund for events that have to be cancelled, rescheduled or curtailed, which will cover up to 100 per cent of eligible production costs.
Additionally, €5 million is available for applications to a seasonal musical theatre and pantomime scheme. Ms Martin acknowledged the introduction of an 8pm closing time is “another devastating blow to the entire live entertainment sector”.
There will be another €5 million for local authorities to support artists and performers, and a €5 million fund for adapting venues will open in January for applications, as will another €4 million round of the Music and Entertainment Business Assistance Scheme.
A minimum of another €10 million will be made available for various live performance support schemes in 2022, alongside €1 million for the St Patrick’s Day festival.