Taoiseach defends Coalition response to mounting Delta threat

Department of Health reports a further 512 coronavirus infections in the Republic

The Taoiseach said he was confident any ‘operational issues’ regarding rollout of vaccines in pharmacies would be easily ‘dealt with’. Photograph: The Irish Times

The Taoiseach said he was confident any ‘operational issues’ regarding rollout of vaccines in pharmacies would be easily ‘dealt with’. Photograph: The Irish Times

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The Taoiseach has said he is “very concerned” the Covid-19 Delta variant will take more lives and will likely “spread more rapidly” here.

Speaking on Friday before the Department of Health reported that an additional 512 cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed in the State, with 46 people in hospital and 14 in intensive care, Mr Martin said: “The key issue is the link between high volume of cases and hospitalisation and illness, and that will be determined, perhaps with greater precession, over the next number of weeks.

“Towards the latter part of July, maybe sooner, we will begin to see numbers increase, and certainly in August. The modelling certainly not just suggests this, but, it’s clear that irrespective of which option you take, there will be an increase in numbers, which will be more manifest in late July and in August – hence the need to move quickly, as we did early this week.”

Speaking in Limerick, Mr Martin said the Government was “worried about the potential for spread of the Delta variant across the country” given that the highly transmissible variant now accounts for more than half of new cases in Ireland.

The Delta strain was now “well over 55 per cent at this stage, and we will get formal data on Monday as to the prevalence of Delta, but it will be well north of 55 per cent by Monday”.

‘Very concerned’

“I am very concerned with the Delta variant and that’s why the Government took the decision it did earlier in the week to pause the reopening. I took the warning seriously – Delta is real, there will be a Delta wave across Europe.”

He said the main concern “is timeline and the degree to which we can delay [the spread], but also vaccinate as many people as we possibly can”.

Asked if he felt confident enough was being done to prevent hospitals being overwhelmed over July through to September, Mr Martin replied: “Yes I am, in terms of the vaccination rollout . . . The vaccination programme has been operated very efficiently and effectively . . . we have very high up-take of the vaccine.”

Responding to criticism from some Catholic Church leaders over the deferring of all religious ceremonies, including Baptisms, first Holy Communion and Confirmations, the Taoiseach said: “The Nphet [National Public Health Emergency Team] advice is very clear, all internal events that were due to proceed form the 5th of July onwards were not to proceed. We made exceptions for weddings given that people had made bookings and so on.”

Mr Martin reiterated that Nphet’s advice “is that indoor events are problematic . . . particularly in the aftermath of communions, there were some super-spreading events attached to subsequent parties that occurred after communions”.

‘Only agenda’

“We don’t do this lightly . . . but we do so to protect society and to protect the gains that we have made – that’s the only agenda, that’s our only motivation.”

The Taoiseach said cabinet has sought advice from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) over whether or not children with underlying conditions should be vaccinated as soon as possible.

“I do understand it’s very worrying for the families and it’s something I hope we can get advice back on quickly. Europe is preparing for the vaccination overall of children, for next year, but for children with underlying conditions it is more immediate and urgent so we have to take advice.

“Obviously the concern is for children with underlying conditions, I’m concerned about it, so we want to get this clarified and resolved as quickly as we can, for the families involved.”

The Taoiseach said he was confident any “operational issues” regarding the rollout of vaccines in pharmacies would be easily “dealt with”.

He said an additional 175,000 vaccines would be delivered “by next week”.

“We have 100,000 in the fridges, and about 80,000 due from Janssen in the first week of July, we are looking for more obviously and we are in touch with the company.”

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