Taoiseach does not rule out more Covid restrictions but says we must ‘hold our nerve’

Martin says vaccination for children with underlying conditions to start next week

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has not ruled out further Covid-19 restrictions before Christmas, but said that “we all need to hold our collective nerve” in the latest wave of the pandemic.

Mr Martin also said it remains the intention not to close schools early before Christmas as part of a bid to slow the spread of the virus.

He made the remarks on RTÉ's Six One News ahead of a meeting between the three Coalition leaders and chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan and other members of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) on Tuesday night.

Mr Martin said he has been in touch with Mr Holohan and Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly in recent days on the potential threat posed by the highly transmissible new Omicron variant.


He said the HSE is working hard on a revised plan to expand the booster vaccination programme, pointing to an intention to open new vaccination centres at Richmond Barracks and the RDS in Dublin as well as to increase the use of GPs and pharmacies to administer jabs.

Mr Martin said 1.25 million booster doses have been administered and there is “significant momentum” in this regard, which he suggested will be accelerated.

He said the vaccination programme for children with underlying conditions or those living with vulnerable family members is to start next week.

Mr Martin said people have reduced socialisation and this has had an impact on levelling out and reducing hospitalisations and ICU admissions.

Question of restrictions

Asked if there will be a need for formal restrictions, Mr Martin said Dr Holohan’s perspective will be sought and “we want to talk things through in an informal way initially”.

Mr Martin also pointed out that some of the restrictions announced in Britain as a response to the Omicron threat have already been in place here and “it has had an impact”.

He said: “That’s why we brought in supports for hospitality and so on because we’ve taken steps, we’ve already introduced restrictions.

“But as I’ve been saying consistently I can’t rule anything out. We will need good discussions.

“What I am heartened by is that over the last two months people have responded to public health messaging by changing their behaviour.”

Mr Martin also said a “collective objective of all of us is to keep schools open”, and speaking in response to suggestions that they could close for Christmas two days early, said: “That’s not our intention at all at this stage.”

Asked if he anticipates an address to the nation between now and the new year, Mr Martin said: “A week is a long time in Covid – I’ve learned that now over the last while.

“What I would say to people is we all need to hold our collective nerve.

“We’ve been through different waves of the pandemic. We’ll get over this wave as well.”

Booster record

Speaking in the Dáil on Tuesday, Mr Martin had said there will “certainly” be a need for a record of people receiving their Covid-19 booster shot.

Mr Martin said that while the booster campaign is currently focused on administering shots, the issue of Covid-19 digital certs for those who have received a booster shot will have to be looked at.

He was responding to a question from Fine Gael TD Richard Bruton in the Dáil on Tuesday.

“I know that speed is absolutely the premium at the moment in rolling out the third dose or the booster dose. I would just like to ask are there plans to ensure that the EU-compatible Covid Digital cert, which is the record of vaccination, that that will include the third dose?” Mr Bruton said.

"Because, as you know, from tomorrow, France, for example, requires people over a certain age to have had three doses before they can go participate in certain activities. There will be a need for a record of this third dose."

Mr Martin said that as about 1.25 million have received a booster shot, he did not think “it would be fair at this stage of the booster campaign differentiating in terms of access and so on”.

Also on Tuesday, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney announced that the State had pledged to donate up to 3 million more vaccine doses to the Covax initiative, which aims to guarantee fair and equitable access to vaccines worldwide.

The latest pledge is in addition to 2 million vaccine doses already committed to Covax by the Republic.

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times