People’s behaviour in the coming weeks will determine if further restrictions will need to be reintroduced in response to the latest surge in Covid-19 infections, a senior doctor has said.
With almost 7,000 cases reported over the last two days, and chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan appealing to people to manage their social contacts, Dr Mary Favier of the Irish College of of General Practitioners said a return of curbs on social and economic activity could not be "entirely ruled out".
“We can’t predict next week, but we can predict our own behaviour. Remember how cautious we were a year ago,” she told Newstalk Breakfast, adding that the situation would be determined by “how we behave now”.
Dr Favier said it was “depressing” to think the country could again face fresh Covid-19 restrictions but that Ireland’s “tipping point” was lower than those of other European countries due to years of underfunding the health service.
She said GPs were noticing a lot of Covid-19 activity in the community, with people calling from work with symptoms but resisting going for a test. In some cases they were phoning looking for reassurance, but did not want to believe that they might have the disease, she said.
The rapid rise in cases was a cause for concern, with a 49 per cent increase in the seven-day average number of cases, she said.
The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) reported a further 3,174 cases on Wednesday, with public health officials warning the force of infection spreading in the community was "simply too high".
However, Dr Holohan ruled out a “circuit-breaker” lockdown to reduce transmission rates, stating that Nphet was not contemplating “additional and wider measures” at this point.
Similarly, Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath said the Government does not have any plans to reintroduce restrictions, despite the rising case numbers. He said the State can get through this phase of the pandemic without the imposition of new restrictions.
“I think the Irish public have been really fantastic since March of last year, but there is a limit to what they can tolerate as well,” he told The Irish Times.
“And they have done everything that we have asked of them. The uptake on the vaccination programme has been really extraordinary and it is because of that we stand a really good chance of getting through this without without the imposition of further restrictions.”
He said the economic impact of restrictions was clear and was really significant.
“That of course, is always a factor but you know, we have also been very honest with people.”
He said the central scenario of forecast by pandemic models was that this phase will get worse in the coming weeks before improving.
“Overall we are reasonably confident that we will get through this without the need to impose further restrictions.”
No single sector to blame
Minister for Tourism Catherine Martin said people could not point at one sector as the reason behind the recent increase in case numbers.
The Government was focused on the numbers of patients being hospitalised, but he said there was no room for “complacency”.
Asked if the reopening of nightclubs was having an impact on numbers with more people mingling at close quarters, she said the Government had adopted a “belts and braces” approach to the easing of restrictions on the late night and live entertainment sectors. She said that the guidelines on queuing and on advance purchases of tickets were put in place in the interests of public health.
“We said there would be a review after three weeks and there will be a review and engagement will continue with the sector,” she said.
Dr Favier said hospitals were still under pressure despite the positive effects of the Covid-19 vaccination programme, with treatments being cancelled due to pressure on intensive care units.
There were 449 patients with the disease in hospitals at 8pm on Wednesday, according to the Health Service Executive (HSE) daily operations report, including 86 people in intensive care.