Government not contemplating going backwards on Covid restrictions – Taoiseach

Government not contemplating going backwards on Covid restrictions – Taoiseach

The 2,180 cases of coronavirus reported on Saturday was the highest number since January. A further 1,380 cases were reported on Sunday.

THE Government is not contemplating the re-imposition of Covid-19 restrictions in Ireland, the Taoiseach has said.

Micheál Martin insisted the vaccine rollout had put Ireland in a different situation from earlier in the pandemic, despite rising infection rates.

The 2,180 cases of coronavirus reported on Saturday was the highest number since January. A further 1,380 cases were reported on Sunday.

While Mr Martin has insisted new measures are not on the horizon, he has already cautioned that he cannot guarantee the lifting of the remaining restrictions will proceed as planned this coming Friday.

That warning last week came after health experts flagged concerns about the trajectory of the virus.

In an interview with the Sunday Independent, Mr Martin said introducing further restrictions was not being considered.

“We do not want to go back, and we are not contemplating going backwards,” he said.

“The only issue facing us now is going forward and that is a decision we will make on the advice we receive from Nphet (National Public Health Emergency Team).” 

He said the country was in a “completely different situation” than it was earlier in the pandemic because over 90% of the population was vaccinated.

Mr Martin said while it was not the Government intention to go backwards in terms of restrictions, the “only caveat” he would attach to that was the “twists and turns” of the vaccine.

Nphet will meet on Monday to consider what recommendations it will make to Cabinet in relation to Friday’s scheduled lifting of remaining restrictions, such as social distancing rules in the hospitality sector.

The National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) is also set to meet on Monday to consider whether the vaccine booster programme should be expanded beyond the over-80 age cohort and those with suppressed immunity.

Mr Martin said he would favour an expansion.

“Right now we are only administering the booster to over-80s and those who are auto-immune-suppressed,” he told the Sunday Independent.

While Mr Martin has insisted new measures are not on the horizon, he has already cautioned that he cannot guarantee the lifting of the remaining restrictions will proceed as planned this coming Friday.
While Mr Martin has insisted new measures are not on the horizon, he has already cautioned that he cannot guarantee the lifting of the remaining restrictions will proceed as planned this coming Friday.

“But I would like to see that expanded. And to healthcare workers too.” 

The Taoiseach indicated he would not favour any move to make vaccination mandatory for healthcare workers.

“The voluntary nature of our vaccination programme has been an outstanding success,” he said.

On Sunday, Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys said there is concern in Government about increasing transmission rates.

She said Cabinet deliberations on Tuesday will focus on the remaining restrictions, with the ongoing use of Covid certification set to be one issue under consideration.

“We are concerned about the rising numbers, and we will be making a decision on Tuesday, and we will be looking at the remaining restrictions,” she told RTÉ One’s The Week in Politics.

“We’re not going back, that’s important to say, but we’re looking at what we’re going to do regarding the remaining restrictions, we’re going to look at Covid certs and we’re going to look at booster vaccinations, and those are all of the issues that we take into consideration in terms of a Government policy.” 

Mrs Humphrey was also asked whether a call by Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn for people to work from home where possible over the autumn and winter is at odds with the Government’s phased return to the workplace plan.

The minister insisted Government policy is clear.

“We want a phased return to work,” she said.

“And we will continue to work with employers, who I know have been facilitating this.” 

She said it is important that employers also facilitate some staff to continue to work from home.

On Saturday, a senior HSE official said levels of Covid-19 transmission in Ireland remain “uncomfortably high”.

Chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said the health service is set for a “difficult winter” as staff continue to deal with coronavirus while attempting to return other services to normal.

But Dr Henry said the success of the vaccine programme had put Ireland in a very “different position” from earlier in the pandemic, highlighting that high numbers of infections were not now translating into the same number of hospitalisations that were witnessed during the three big waves of infection.

Dr Henry said the decision on lifting of restrictions was no longer a “binary choice” given the effectiveness of vaccines.

He suggested vaccine certification could be a mitigation measure to enable nightclubs to reopen but he stressed those were decisions for the Government to take.

On Sunday morning, there were 459 Covid-positive patients in hospital, of whom 74 were in intensive care.

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