There will be no new Covid restrictions recommended to Government this week, the chief medical officer (CMO) has said.
It is understood Dr Tony Holohan told opposition health spokespersons that the National Public Health Emergency Team is unlikely to recommend further measures following its meeting this week.
It comes as the Department of Health has reported 3,666 new Covid cases. There were 638 Covid patients in hospital down 46 from yesterday, of whom 130 are in ICU, an increase of four.
Sources at the meeting said the CMO said he is not expecting to recommend additional restrictions following its meeting on Thursday. Instead the focus will be on evaluating the existing measures. Dr Holohan told the group while he is hopeful, there can be no guarantees given the current trajectory of the disease.
It is understood he said it was very likely that a further extension of the booster jabs will be recommended.
He also said antigen testing has a role to play. And expressed optimism about new anti-viral medications which are showing strong results with up to 50 per cent reduction in hospitalisations. However they’re unlikely to be available for use here until the end of January next year.
In a statement on Tuesday evening, Dr Holohan said:
“We know that the level of worry has increased to levels last seen in April this year.
“We know what we are asking people to do to help supress the spread of disease in our communities is very difficult. If we all make a concerted effort it can make a difference.
“Our research tells us that people are listening to the public health advice and are reducing the number of people they are planning to meet, and are cancelling social events, to reduce their contacts.”
He urged those with cold or flu symptoms to isolate an get a PCR test, he asked people to prioritise who they met and to meet outdoors or with windows open indoors. He also urged people to wear a mask properly and to “use the right test and understand what the test results mean”.
Separately the HSE confirmed that dozens of people had been mistakenly called for vaccine boosters at the Fairyhouse facility in Co Meath on Monday.
A spokeswoman said 41 people aged under 60 were incorrectly scheduled.
“The vaccination centre is currently reviewing their scheduling process to ensure this does not happen again. The HSE apologies for any inconvenience caused.”
On Tuesday night Dr Mike Ryan, director of the WHO’s health emergencies programme, warned that countries need to be careful around the concept of mandatory Covid vaccines.
“You have to be in a position where you have tried everything else and you are not making progress; where the potential public health and health impact in terms of deaths is so high that you have no other choice,” he said.
“If that is introduced it should be for the shortest possible period of time and with due regard for human rights.”
Speaking on RTE's Prime Time on Tuesday, he said further lockdown measures should be a last resort but noted that in Ireland public interaction had reverted to old ways.
“The reality is that mobility in Ireland and social mixing is at pre-pandemic levels. We are mixing together in a winter environment while the virus is still here. And the fact remains that this virus is not done with us even though we’d like to be done with it,” he said.
Meanwhle the HSE’s chief operations officer has warned that cancelled procedures and a policy of not scheduling appointments because of Covid-19 will mean that waiting lists will get longer.
Anne O’Connor said procedures were not being scheduled, but the situation had not yet reached the point where all non-Covid procedures were being cancelled, as has had happened during the worst phase of the pandemic.
There are currently 638 people being treated in hospital with Covid-19, 130 in ICU, of whom 78 are invasively ventilated, said Ms O’Connor.
Although there appeared to be a drop in attendance at emergency departments, hospitals were still "flat out", Ms O'Connor told RTÉ radio's News at One. The numbers were going in the wrong direction, she said.
Hospital directors would review their situations day by day, Ms O’Connor said. They would continue to do that and make decisions based on what their individual hospital could manage and if necessary to moderate their activity.
Earlier, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan played down the prospect of an early return to Covid-19 restrictions, saying he wants to see the impact of people restricting their socialising before further decisions are made.
The Minister for the Environment referred to last week’s Government decision to bring in a midnight curfew for restaurants, pubs and nightclubs and said people were also taking their own initiative to rein in their socialising.
His comments came as it emerged this morning that plans for a subsidised antigen test regime were not expected to be ready in time for today’s Cabinet meeting. Ministers are discussing the ongoing rise of Covid-19 cases at that meeting.
Speaking to reporters on the way into Cabinet Mr Ryan said: "I think a lot of people have reacted to the decisions last week, a lot of people have cancelled events, have held back, and I think that was the signal to the country that a lot of people have taken up. We are reducing our socialisation, reducing our contacts.
“I think we said at the time – and I think it’s good medical science – wait three weeks to see what exactly is the consequence of that.”
In remarks reported by RTÉ, Mr Ryan said: “It is quite a significant change that occurred last week, around the country, everyone knows it.
“Right across the board, people are rightly restricting their movements so I’d prefer to wait and see the consequences of that and then we’ll make further decisions.”
Mr Ryan also referred to the delay in Cabinet considering a plan for subsidising antigen tests saying more time was needed “to get it right”.
He said it appeared that people were not using them correctly, so it was important to get the correct information to people on how and when to use them.
Despite expectations since last week that a plan for providing antigen tests to the public at subsidised cost of around €3, no proposal has yet been brought to the Cabinet by Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly.
The initial proposal was to start with pharmacies, before other retailers, who would be able to give advice on when to use rapid tests.
However, consideration is still being given to how other parts of the retail sector could participate in the scheme. A late offer from retailers on how they might come on board may be among the reasons for the delay.
Opposition TDs have criticised the delay and called for antigen tests to be free.
Sinn Féin's health spokesman David Cullinane said it's "incredible" that a year after an expert panel was set up that there still is no "coherent plan" for the use of antigen tests.
He claimed there was a “lack of urgency” from Government.