THE Government is to consider the continuation of vaccine passes, mask-wearing and an increase in antigen testing ahead of a decision to lift restrictions this week.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin is meeting Government leaders today to assess advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet).
The Government will announce on Tuesday whether restrictions will remain in place after Friday.
Mr Martin also said he is a “strong believer” in antigen tests.
“The continuation of the Covid certs is certainly an item on the agenda, as is mask-wearing and so on,” Mr Martin said in Cork.
“I don’t want to go into specific details about the specific aspects of reopening and so on, because that’s the Government’s consideration. I’m not going to pre-empt that at this stage.
“But suffice to say that there is a lot of concern in terms of the increase in the number of cases, which is also translating into an increase in the number of hospitalisations and ICU as we witnessed today.
“That obviously is a matter of concern. That said we are in a much different space and situation to this time last year because of vaccination.
“So we would encourage people out there who still haven’t been vaccinated to get vaccinated, and particularly those who have the first dose but not their second dose.” Asked whether wider use of antigen testing will be considered, to help reopen the rest of the economy, Mr Martin said: “I’m a strong believer in antigen testing.
“The public health officials have a more moderate perspective on the value of antigen testing, but some sectors have rolled out antigen testing and that’s something that the Government will be considering as well over the next 24 hours.” The Fianna Fail leader said further clarity will be give on Tuesday about plans to lift all remaining restrictions on Friday.
It comes as people were urged to “hit the reset button” as the number in hospital with Covid-19 surges.
The head of the Health Service Executive (HSE), Paul Reid, said there are now 482 people in hospital with coronavirus, a rise of 76 since Saturday.
Seventy-four Covid patients are in intensive care.
There are some 280 ICU beds in Ireland, meaning a quarter are now occupied by patients with Covid.
Mr Reid tweeted: “Time for us all to hit the reset button. 1. If unvaccinated, you’re at higher risk, resulting in a disproportionate impact. Do the right thing.
“2. For the rest of us, time to do the basics well again. Both of the above work.” Nphet met on Monday to discuss their advice on current Covid data.
The National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) also met to produce its advice on the booster programme.
While some 92% of adults are fully vaccinated, Government ministers have been concerned about those who are not vaccinated and the effect it has on reopening.
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said there has been a “substantial increase” in the number of walk-ins at vaccination centres in recent days.
“Booster vaccines for aged 65+ in LTRC (long-term residential care) and 80+ in community continue this week. College pop-ups continue also.” Infectious disease specialist Dr Sam McConkey said the number of people in hospital with the disease is “very shocking and disappointing”.
He said the rising number of Covid cases in hospital “disrupts” the regular care given to other patients.
“That’s obstructive and problematic for the health service to have that sort of numbers,” he told RTÉ’s Today With Claire Byrne show.
“I think it’s actually the sick people and the people who are very sick and unfortunately some people are dying, and that’s really the issue.
“That’s not something that’s really a good way to go into wintertime with flu coming.
“If we opened things more that could potentially get worse. So I think it’s really important that we get out of our minds all the kind of ‘Boris Johnson Freedom Day’, ideas that we had in England back in June.
“I hope that we can continue to do sensible things, like ventilation, masks, a lot of the things we have been doing.”