There will be no further Covid-19 restrictions imposed before Christmas, Taoiseach Micheál Martin signalled last night, as the Government want to judge the impact of existing restrictions on spread of the Omicron variant.
Mr Martin said the Government would keep the situation under constant review. And he declined to rule out new restrictions next week once more is known about the effect and severity of the latest variant.
But he said there were no plans for meetings with National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) this week, which could be a prelude to additional measures.
“People do need some degree of settled horizon, and that’s why we were anxious to make it clear that given we made decisions only last Friday, that we give them time to work out and observe their impact,” said Mr Martin. “So there are no plans for meetings this week, or for any change to the situation this week.”
He said that before any advice on new restrictions came from Nphet, there would be a series of engagements with Government. There were no plans for such engagements this week, he said.
Asked if that situation could change next week, Mr Martin replied: “I think I said last week that a week is a long time in Covid . . . We’ll have to see.”
He said that the “key data” Government was waiting to evaluate was the impact of Omicron on hospital numbers and the severity of the strain. Officials were looking at studies from South Africa, he said, but the experience in the United Kingdom would also be an important guide for how the virus might behave here.
“But we’re very hopeful, well, hopeful that the combination of measures we’ve taken so far and the rollout of the booster campaign will enable us to get through this . . . But as I’ve said consistently, nobody can rule anything out.”
It comes as the wait period between recovering from the virus and receiving a booster vaccine has been shortened to three months.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly last night accepted the National Immunisation Advisory Committee's recommendation that the interval for those who have had a breakthrough infection after being vaccinated be reduced from the current six months.
The Health Service Executive administered 76,000 doses of virus vaccines on Monday, the majority of which were booster doses.
Meanwhile, the Government also announced a €100 million package of support for businesses affected by the latest round of public health restrictions.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the measures meant supports available to firms would be "similar or better" to the level given at the height of lockdown.
The Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme scheme will be reopened to businesses that were able to come off it in recent months while the Covid Restrictions Support Scheme will be paid to firms who feel they cannot operate due to the new restrictions.
A further 5,279 coronavirus infections were confirmed yesterday, with 443 patients hospitalised, of whom 102 are in intensive care.
The deaths of a further three people with the disease were reported in Northern Ireland yesterday, along with an additional 2,096 infections. DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson also revealed on the day that he had tested positive for the virus.