Lockdown to be extended to March 5, confirms Taoiseach 

Lockdown to be extended to March 5, confirms Taoiseach 

A quiet St. Patrick's Street during the current level 5 restrictions. 

The Taoiseach has confirmed that the current level five restrictions will be extended until at least early March. 

A Cabinet sub-committee met last night to consider a range of new measures to combat the pandemic, including extending lockdown until March 5th - in line with Northern Ireland.

The proposals will go before the Cabinet today. 

Speaking on his way into Cabinet this morning, the Taoiseach Michéal Martin told reporters "as has been flagged the restrictions will continue until the 5th of March."

It is expected mandatory quarantine of 14-days will be enforced for international travellers who arrive in the country without a negative PCR test taken in the previous 72-hours.

Passengers from Brazil and South Africa, where new variants of Covid-19 have emerged, will also be subject to quarantine, according to Government sources.

A full meeting of the Cabinet is to take place today where the proposals are expected to be signed off on.

It comes as the number of patients in hospital with Covid-19 remains high, with more than double the number compared with the first wave last year.

Pressure on health service 

The number of hospital staff currently off because of coronavirus also remains high across the health service.

In addition, hundreds of nurses have been redeployed to intensive care (ICU) because of the rising number of Covid patients.

While the number of patients is beginning to ease, with 1,823 in hospital on Tuesday morning, Anne O'Connor, the HSE's chief operations officer, said it is still a very high number.

"Clearly that puts a huge demand on our hospital system," she told RTÉ Morning Ireland.

"We have still got a high level of absenteeism among all of our staff, and we are having to redeploy staff from across the hospitals into ICU.

"At the minute we have anything between 300 and 350 nurses redeployed into ICU to be able to cope with that very high number of 217 (patients)."

Ms O'Connor could not confirm whether all frontline health workers have received the Covid-19 vaccination.

Vaccination

"When we started vaccinating our frontline healthcare workers, the priority was to vaccinate within the hospital setting, to vaccinate people who were involved in our Covid pathways," she said.

"So that has been our priority, and I'm sure... whether there are some people out there who haven't been vaccinated, I can't say, but that has been our priority in terms of rolling out this vaccine across our acute hospitals.

"The priority for vaccination has been based on people's exposure. It's not to do with their their grade or their discipline, it's to do with where they are perceived as having the most risk, and certainly the guidance that has been developed for our system is based on levels of exposure."

Among the other measures Cabinet will discuss is making it mandatory to quarantine at home for all returning passengers from other countries.

Gardai have also set up checkpoints outside airports to establish why people are leaving and coming back into the country.

Re-opening of schools 

Last night, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer warned the full reopening of schools is unlikely to happen in the coming weeks as transmission of Covid-19 in the community remains too high.

The daily case tallies have dropped significantly in recent weeks due to lockdown measures, with 1,372 cases reported on Monday, compared to a high of 8,248 cases on January 8.

But while case numbers are dropping and the numbers of people in hospitals and intensive care units is beginning to plateau, it still to early to consider reopening schools, Dr Ronan Glynn said.

He told a briefing on last evening: "It's a very significant improvement over the past couple of weeks and where we were.

"But we're still at a level of disease that is way, way higher than where we want to be, or need to be in general terms.

"All I can say is that, from our perspective, right now is not the time to see mobility of over a million people that would be associated with the full reopening of education.

"In the first instance we need to be assured that the improvements that we've seen in the disease numbers, in the trajectory, is continuing. And that we don't now plateau at where we are. We need to see a continued improvement."

He added: "I can't see it happening in the next fortnight for sure."

Positive signs 

Dr Glynn said there are "positive signs", with the number of hospital admissions per day decreasing for the last two weeks.

He said: "It peaked at around 140 admissions per day, on average, it's below 100 over the last seven days, and we saw 74 admissions or confirmations today. The number in ICU plateauing at over 200."

However, he said the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) expects those numbers "to remain very high for weeks to come".

He said: "Despite all of the hard work that we're doing, it is going to take a long time for numbers in hospital to reduce.

"We do expect to see numbers in hospital at or above 1000, even out to the end of February.

"In terms of numbers of people in critical care, we expect to see that start to reduce over the coming week. But again, likely to remain above 100, well out to the end of February.

"I'm saying that so that people prepare for that or not disheartened by the fact that it is going to take a long time to bring the burden on our healthcare system back down to reasonable levels."

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