Covid: 4,163 new cases as Holohan points to 'stabilisation'

Taoiseach calls for caution while impact of Omicron variant assessed

Dr Tony Holohan: ‘The additional efforts to adhere to the public health measures we have all been taking over the last few weeks are having a positive impact.’ Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

Dr Tony Holohan: ‘The additional efforts to adhere to the public health measures we have all been taking over the last few weeks are having a positive impact.’ Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

 

Chief medical officer Tony Holohan has said the State is “beginning to see stabilisation” in the incidence of Covid-19.

Dr Holohan made the comment as a further 4,163 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in the State on Thursday.

As of 8am there were 545 coronavirus patients in hospital, of whom 117 were in intensive care (ICU), according to the latest figures from the Department of Health.

“The additional efforts to adhere to the public health measures we have all been taking over the last few weeks are having a positive impact,” said Dr Holohan.

“We are beginning to see stabilisation in a range of key indicators of incidence of Covid-19.”

However, he maintained that although “progress is very welcome, the level of disease in the community is still a concern”.

“Stabilisation is happening at too high a level. The current high incidence is driven by the Delta variant, which, coupled with the presence of the Omicron variant, means that the trajectory of the disease remains uncertain.

“In the last seven days 478 people with Covid-19 were admitted to hospital with 46 people admitted to ICU.”

Although, he acknowledged, it can be “difficult” at this time of year, Dr Holohan stressed that choosing to follow public health advice is “the key to changing the trajectory of the disease”.

Earlier on Thursday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said there will be a need for continued caution among the public over the next two weeks until the exact impact of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 becomes fully known.

Mr Martin said he had spoken to European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday, who had told him that it would be the middle of the month before a full evaluation of the strain’s potency would be complete.

“It will take (a further two weeks) before scientists will have a comprehensive picture in respect of how infectious it is, how virulent, and to what degree will the new variant escape vaccines,” he said.

“In essence then, in the next number of weeks, we have to be cautious in respect of that variant. And its potential to do harm in addition to the Delta wave.”

Mr Martin said that the overall picture in Ireland was more positive and that while case numbers were still high, they had stabilised.

He said measures and a “general call to arms” announced two weeks ago – asking people to socialise less, work from home and get vaccinated – “have worked”.

He said the winter season, the potential flu season and the possible impact of the Omicron variant had to be taken into account when considering how to proceed in the weeks ahead.

Mr Martin and Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe were speaking at the launch of the latest progress report of the North East Inner City initiative. They were speaking outside the refurbished St Mary’s Mansions in Dublin 1.

Nphet recommendations

Mr Martin said the Government had to be mindful of the fact the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) was meeting on Thursday.

“They will make recommendations to the Government, and the Government will then consider those recommendations,” he said.

The Taoiseach said it was welcome to hear that 40,000 booster shots had been administered on Wednesday and that a further 10,000 to 11,000 people had come forward last week voluntarily to receive a first vaccine dose, while 10,000 others had received a second dose.

Asked about the reductions to the Employment Wage Support Scheme (EWSS) , which came into effect on December 1st, and its impact on the hospitality sector in particular, Mr Martin acknowledged that some sectors were finding it “extremely difficult”.

However, he said the EWSS had been an “unprecedented intervention in the economy”. He said the EWSS was economy wide but the Government would now be looking at sector specific measures that could be taken.

Mr Donohoe said that more than €5 billion had been invested by the Government into the EWSS, with €440 million paid out in November alone.

“While we remain absolutely committed to how we can use that program to support our economy as it is reopening safely. Equally, I have to be open and say it cannot continue indefinitely,” he said.

The right point

“We will have to get to a point that (it is) the right point to end employment by subsidies. It is a program of huge impact, but it was launched at a time of a risk of mass unemployment. And what we will do is review where we are…And then the Government, I’m sure very shortly, will make a decision about what is appropriate in the coming months.”

Speaking in the Dáil, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said it would be “prudent” to see what Nphet’s advice would be, and its impact on people and businesses, before deciding what the Government’s response would be in terms of financial support for workers.

“If it’s the case that people end up being laid off, or being made redundant over the course of the next few weeks - I’m not saying that’s going to happen - of course, we need to respond to that,” he said.

“It wouldn’t be fair to say to them, some of them being laid off potentially for the second or third time, that all we have for you is the traditional jobseekers payment.”

Struggling to find staff

He said some 2.4 million people were now working in the State, which was “close to more than ever before” and that many businesses he encountered were telling him that they were “struggling to find staff”.

“Most of the companies that benefit from the wage subsidy scheme are not in the hospitality, arts entertainment sectors, so we have to bear that in mind too,” he said in response to Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy, who said further restrictions on hospitality would amount to “death by 1,000 cuts”.

The Kildare North TD questioned whether there was now “some kind of a Darwinian survival of the fittest in terms of the businesses that can withstand” the new Covid wave.

Mr Varadkar said a difficulty with the EWSS was that it “can’t be broken down on a sectoral basis”.

“I think it’s important that anything we do is targeted to the workers who may be affected and the businesses and the sectors affected, not necessarily an across economy approach for sectors that may not need these financial supports anymore, which ultimately are very expensive and are at the cost of the taxpayer.”

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