No plans for further Covid-19 restrictions before end of year as Omicron becomes dominant

Further 5,124 cases of Covid-19 confirmed, including Minister Eamon Ryan who is self-isolating at home

Nphet reported a further 5,124 confirmed cases of Covid-19. There were 436 Covid-19 patients in hospital on Sunday morning. Photograph Nick Bradshaw for The Irish Times

Nphet reported a further 5,124 confirmed cases of Covid-19. There were 436 Covid-19 patients in hospital on Sunday morning. Photograph Nick Bradshaw for The Irish Times

 

The Government said on Sunday there were no plans for further Covid-19 restrictions before the end of the year but added there were no guarantees about the future trajectory of the disease.

The statement came as it was announced that the Covid-19 Omicron variant was now the dominant strain in the country, accounting for more than half of new cases.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) reported a further 5,124 confirmed cases of Covid-19 on Sunday. There were 436 Covid-19 patients in hospital on Sunday morning, of which 107 were hospital intensive care units.

Separately, it was announced that Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan had tested positive for Covid-19 and was self-isolating at home. Mr Ryan attended Cabinet remotely on Friday so other ministers are not close contacts.

A spokesman for Taoiseach Micheál Martin said Mr Martin spoke with chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan on Sunday morning.

The spokesman said there were no plans to press any “nuclear button” after the Mail on Sunday reported that public health leaders told Government that the closure of pubs and restaurants may be needed soon if the situation deteriorated.

The spokesman said that the party leaders and Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly met public health officials on Tuesday and “they discussed the areas where restrictions might apply”.

On Friday, members of Nphet briefed members of Cabinet and there was “no reference” to any lockdown measures. Nphet are scheduled to meet next on January 6th.

“As the Taoiseach said yesterday, there are no guarantees, and they will keep monitoring the situation, but they are heartened with booster progress,” the spokesman said.

Nphet said in a statement on Sunday that the “S gene target failure” marker identifying the new variant had been detected in an estimated 52 per cent of reported cases.

“It has taken less than two weeks for Omicron to become the dominant strain of Covid-19 in Ireland, revealing just how transmissible this variant is,” said Dr Holohan.

“We have slowed transmission of this disease in the past using our basic measures and responding immediately if symptomatic – it is extremely important we do everything we can to flatten the curve of this wave now to prevent unnecessary deaths, risk to the vulnerable and to protect our health service.”

Dr Holohan urged anyone eligible for a booster to avail of it “at the earliest opportunity”.

“If the majority of us can now reduce our social contact, meet others outdoors, work from home unless absolutely necessary, ensure the appropriate use of face masks, avoid crowds and keep indoors well ventilated,” he said.

“Very importantly if you have any Covid-19 symptoms self-isolate immediately and arrange a PCR test, if you are a close contact of a confirmed case please restrict your movements.”

Prof Philip Nolan, chair of Nphet’s modelling group, said on Friday that the more transmissible Omicron variant would become dominant strain in the next four to five days.

Modelling scenarios for the impact of the Omicron variant show up to 1,500 people requiring general hospital care, with more than 400 people requiring critical care, and more than 2,000 people in hospital at peak.

On Saturday, Prof Nolan published a number of such modelling scenarios emphasising the need for people to take extra care, get vaccinated and reduce social contact.

Prof Nolan said the prospect of 2,000 people requiring hospital care was one of the more “pessimistic modelling scenarios” but the level of reduction in social contact people put in place over the next three weeks would be “key” to how the population fares in the oncoming, fifth wave of Covid -19.

Prof Nolan said the number of variables in the modelling was large but based on vaccines remaining effective in preventing people getting seriously ill. However, if vaccine effectiveness “is even moderately reduced” the State “will see more severe cases than in our model scenarios”, making treating people extremely difficult.

Prof Nolan’s comments came as the general secretary of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation Phil Ní Sheaghdha said the publication of daily figures for the dead and the seriously ill in ICU should be resumed.

Ms Ní Sheaghdha said healthcare workers were not confident that the truth about what is happening in hospitals and the current state of the health service was “getting out there” .

She said healthcare workers were “very worried about the seriousness of what is facing them” and debate about pubs closing at 5pm or 8pm was very hard to listen to when you had just been telling a patient’s family “over the phone because they can not visit” that the patient is not going to make it.

Ms Ní Sheaghdha, called on the health authorities to resume publication of daily numbers of those who have died, along with numbers in hospitals and in intensive care, as she said “if you don’t see it, you do not believe it is happening”.

She said health workers had asked her to give some examples of what they experience on a daily basis and these included a report from a nurse that “she was standing with a patient who was very breathless, in his 30s, not vaccinated, struggling for breath and saying ‘I made the wrong decision’. He did not make it,” Ms Ní Sheaghdha said.

“The numbers of people who are not vaccinated and are having very, very poor outcomes are simply incredible at the moment.”