National effort required to avoid lockdown, says Coveney

National effort required to avoid lockdown, says Coveney

Mr Coveney declined to point to any specific sectors that might bear the brunt of fresh restrictions, but promised Government support to any industry affected.Photo: Damien Storan.

Foreign Affairs Minister and Cork TD Simon Coveney said it is still possible to avoid a return to lockdown, amid a worrying surge in Covid-19 cases in Ireland.

Speaking today, Mr Coveney appealed to people to follow public health advice.

“It is possible to avoid the introduction of more restrictions, but we will have to watch the numbers very closely,” he said.

“Future lockdowns are not inevitable, but they require a national effort.” 

Ireland is experiencing a fourth wave of the pandemic, prompting fears about the capacity of the health system to cope.

A further 4,181 Covid-19 cases were confirmed in the country on Sunday.

There were 668 patients in hospitals with the disease, with 125 in intensive care.

On Saturday night, 53 people with the virus were being cared for at hospitals in Cork. 

Government support 

Mr Coveney declined to point to any specific sectors that might bear the brunt of fresh restrictions, but promised Government support to any industry affected.

The Government has faced criticism for declining to re-establish the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) for workers following the recent introduction of new measures designed to curb the spread of the virus.

Mr Coveney indicated that the payment would be on the agenda when ministers met next week at a Cabinet sub-committee, although he did not go into more detail.

He also said he “strongly expects” the Government will act as soon as next Tuesday to make antigen testing kits cheaper.

Boosters and antigen tests 

During an appearance on RTÉ’s The Week In Politics programme, the senior Fine Gael minister faced questions from opposition TDs about progress on antigen testing and the rollout of booster jabs.

More than 500,000 boosters have been administered in Ireland so far.

Sinn Féin TD Louise O’Reilly, appearing on the same programme, accused the Government of “dithering”.

“There is a lot of leadership that is absolutely absent,” she said.

“They have finally come around to what Sinn Féin and others have been saying on antigen testing.” 

Social Democrats co-leader Roisin Shortall said: “There’s no doubt the situation is very grave and we have a very narrow window of opportunity to try to flatten the curve.” 

She said that the Government had been “very very slow” on booster jabs and that the current difficulty in booking PCR tests, amid a spike in demand among the public, was “not acceptable”.

Aontu leader Peadar Toibin said the “big failure” of the Government had also been the missed opportunity to build capacity in the hospital system and create extra beds.

Mr Coveney defended the Government.

“On antigen testing, there is a lot of antigen testing going on already and it has been going on for many months,” he said.

“We are acting with urgency regarding booster rollout.” 

Appeal from CMO 

Earlier, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan called on people to follow the public health advice and asked anyone eligible for a booster vaccine to take it.

“We can change the trajectory of this disease,” Dr Holohan said in a statement.

“Small changes, by all of us, will make a big difference collectively.

“Together we can break the chains of transmission and bring down disease incidence. By doing so we can have a real impact on the number of people who end up seriously ill and in hospital in mid-December.” 

He warned that the situation was having a dangerous impact on non-Covid care in the health system.

“The current level of Covid-19 in Ireland is having a negative impact on the health of the people of Ireland and placing an enormous burden on our entire health system, from public health to general practice to our acute hospitals,” he said.

“We are all, understandably, very tired of this pandemic.

“Time and again we have asked the Irish people to take on board public health messaging and act for the collective good. And time and again the vast majority have listened to that message and responded.” 

Dr Holohan asked people to ensure that they were using antigen testing correctly.

“If you have symptoms of Covid-19 you should isolate and book a PCR test online or contact your GP. You should not take an antigen test,” he said.

“Unfortunately, our data suggests that the majority of people who are using antigen tests at present are symptomatic and that of those, the majority who get a ‘negative’ result are incorrectly assuming that this means they no longer have to self-isolate or get a PCR test, potentially placing many others at risk of Covid-19.

“You should only consider using an antigen test if you have no symptoms of the disease and only as a further additional tool.” He also urged people to “try to meet up with other people outdoors”.

Recent days have seen health officials and medics call on people to reduce the number of people they see, to contain the spread of the virus.

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