Nphet has not been ‘gagged’, Taoiseach says as restrictions to remain until more known of Omicron

‘Public health will advise, Government will decide,’ Micheál Martin says

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the unvaccinated have a disproportionate impact on our health services, on our ICU bed. Photograph: Julien Behal/PA Wire

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the unvaccinated have a disproportionate impact on our health services, on our ICU bed. Photograph: Julien Behal/PA Wire

 

The National Public Health Emergency Team has not been “gagged”, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said on Sunday, and the Government would continue to follow its advice in the coming weeks.

“There is no question of anybody being gagged,” Mr Martin told reporters in Ennis this afternoon.

He was speaking after a Government decision on Friday that all communications about Covid were to be managed through the Government Information Service, based in Government Buildings.

“Co-ordination is important in terms of co-ordinating government messages,” Mr Martin said.

“There will always be difficulties, and mistakes will get made . . . There’s no playbook that you take off the shelf.”

He said that “overall countries that have generally abided by public health advice have done well, and Ireland has done well compared to other countries”.

Mr Martin said chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan “fully recognises the importance of . . . co-ordinating messaging and everything, there’s no issue there”.

“From my perspective, and I’ve been very clear from the beginning of the pandemic, public health advice is very important and central to responding to this epidemic and we’re doing that and will continue to do that,” Mr Martin said.

He said that current restrictions would be in place until there was a better understanding of the Omicron variant of Covid-19. “It will be two to three weeks until we have a better picture with regard to Omicron, before the scientists globally will have a collective view on it . . . First of all, identify how really infectious it is , the degree to which it will escape vaccines, if it does, and how virulent is it.”

Hospital Report

Confirmed cases in hospital Confirmed cases in ICU
896 90

He said that “public health will advise, Government will decide”.

“We need to hold our nerve,” he said.

The Government announced a new set of restrictions on Friday including tighter cuts to the number of people who can eat indoors and attend indoor entertainment and sporting events from Tuesday until January 9th.

Some Covid-19 restrictions could be removed quite quickly if concerns in relation to the Omicron variant do not materialise, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform said on Sunday.

“It is essentially precautionary in nature, this is a pre-emptive move by Government based on advice because there are a significant number of questions we cannot yet answer in relation to the Omicron variant,” Michael McGrath said.

Speaking on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics, he added: “We expect to get some of those answers quite quickly and, if those answers are benign or favourable and some of the concerns in relation to Omicron do not materialise, then I anticipate that some of these restrictions can be removed quite quickly.”

Unvaccinated

Mr Martin also appealed to people who had not been vaccinated against Covid-19 to take up their first and second dose and said that people should take up their booster when offered.

“Because we know now that the unvaccinated have a disproportionate impact on our health services, on our ICU beds, and it’s as clear as daylight that you’re taking real risks if you don’t get vaccinated in terms of your own personal health and the health of others,” he said.

He also noted the emergence of anti-virals will be important in the new year and there will be a childhood vaccination programme in the new year.

Financial Supports

The Government will look at raising the €5,000 a week cap on financial support for large businesses affected by reintroduced Covid-19 restrictions in the coming days, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe has said.

In response to new restrictions announced for the hospitality sector last Friday, the Government is reopening the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) for people from affected sectors at the higher weekly rate of €350, and a targeted version of the Covid Restrictions Support Scheme for hospitality businesses.

Mr Donohoe said that for “some particularly larger businesses who are large employers” the €5,000 a week cap “may need revision” and that would be looked at “in the next few days”.

The Minister told Newstalk’s On The Record radio programme that the PUP would be reopened to new entrants at the higher rate of €350, currently not available to other PUP recipients. He said it would be open to people who “now find their employment has gone nearly overnight”.

He referred to nightclub workers who will be out of work after the closure of nightclubs was announced again.

“We appreciate that there are a group of workers in a really important part of our hospitality sector in particular, who are finding themselves unemployed again all over again within a year and we have a particular responsibility to them,” said Mr Donohoe.

The Minister said that the Government was “in a different place” with Covid-19 and needed to look at targeted “sector by sector” supports rather than general supports for the wider economy.

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