Current booster phase of vaccine programme to last until April

State is ‘well beyond’ peak of Omicron wave, Taoiseach says

Taoiseach Micheál Martin arriving for a Cabinet meeting at Dublin Castle om Wednesday. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins Photos

Taoiseach Micheál Martin arriving for a Cabinet meeting at Dublin Castle om Wednesday. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins Photos

 

The current booster phase of the vaccine programme will last until April, with mass vaccination centres to be retained up until then for people who were recently infected with Covid.

A high-powered meeting was told on Wednesday that hundreds of thousands of people will need to be given their boosters in the coming months, as they contracted Covid before being boosted.

They will become eligible at different stages up to April, depending on when they caught the disease. There are at least 500,000 people who received either positive PCR or antigen tests recently and they will be ineligible for a booster shot for three months after diagnosis.

The figures were given by Health Service Executive chief executive Paul Reid at a meeting of the Covid Oversight Group (COG), which is also attended by members of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet).

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Sources at the meeting said chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan indicated the Covid-19 situation was improving, but the numbers remained high. However, on the eve of a key meeting of Nphet, Coalition figures believe the direction of travel on unwinding restrictions is now near-irreversible.

“The writing’s on the wall for the last week: with all the indicators, you cannot restrict the public to the extent we are from normal activities without justification,” one source said. Nonetheless, the Government expects there will be a rebound in case numbers once restrictions are relaxed in the days and weeks to come – a similar trend was observed in Denmark recently.

‘Well beyond’ peak

Taoiseach Micheál Martin told his parliamentary party the country is “well beyond” the peak of the Omicron wave of the pandemic and is in a good position to begin a phased lifting of restrictions.

He said the booster programme was delivered in an “impactful and efficient way” and Covid-19 case numbers are “reducing significantly”. Mr Martin said “the situation is much better than feared” but that the unboosted and unvaccinated should be encouraged to avail of the jabs.

The focus is now likely to switch to targeting those who have yet to come forward.

Some health sources believe the retention of the Covid pass for indoor dining, which the Government has indicated will be phased out, would help uptake rates – especially among younger people, where it is lagging. That idea enjoys some support, with one Cabinet source saying on Wednesday they would favour the retention of the cert if it were proposed.

Elsewhere, Coalition figures are also eyeing upcoming tapering of Covid schemes in the coming months, including the employment wage subsidy scheme, and eligibility terms for the pandemic unemployment payment. “If it’s all systems go in respect of sectors being open and trading uninhibited, I suspect everyone knows what that means for supports,” one Minister said.

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