No major restriction changes expected, Taoiseach says

Mr Martin said the levels of infection are "unprecedented" and the next 10 days will provide further evidence on the severity of illness arising from Omicron.
No major restriction changes expected, Taoiseach says

The requirement for vaccinated passengers to show either a negative PCR or professionally administered antigen test was introduced late last year following concerns over the spread of the Omicron variant.

Latest: The bulk of Ireland's sickest Covid-19 patients have the Delta variant and not the highly contagious Omicron strain, hospital data shows.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin said that while the vast majority of daily cases are of the Omicron variant, most ICU patients have the Delta variant.

Ireland is experiencing a surge in Covid-19 cases driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

On Tuesday, Ireland recorded 21,302 daily infections.

Speaking at Government Buildings on Wednesday following a Cabinet meeting, Mr Martin said: "There is a broader range of pressures on hospitals this year, not just Covid, as there is far more activity out there.

"It still seems that the bulk of the ICU cases are Delta cases, complex, severe illness in many cases and that is the feedback from the HSE.

"The hospitals are under pressure, staff absences are contributing.

"The HSE has far more on its plate than 12 months ago with the rollout of the vaccination programmes, child vaccinations and the booster vaccination programmes."

He said that HSE testing, including PCRs and antigen tests, has jumped to around 650,000 every week.

Mr Martin said the levels of infection are "unprecedented" and the next 10 days will provide further evidence on the severity of illness arising from Omicron.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nhpet) is to meet on Thursday to assess the epidemiological data.

The government is to ask chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan to consider reviewing the rules for people who are identified as close contacts and are fully vaccinated.

Mr Martin said he does not anticipate any major changes in restrictions but said it was a matter for public health officials.

"The restrictions we have now are set to run until the end of January and the public have responded well to adjustment of behaviour and that is having an impact," Mr Martin added.

"I don't want to pre-empt what Nphet will do in its decisions on Thursday, but it seems the overall picture right now is that the current set of restrictions that have been in place are effective.

"It remains to be seen whether public health wish to advise any further, but the indications are it will be steady as she goes."

He said the HSE is also working to include booster vaccinations in Covid passes.

"It is clear to us that the benefits of the booster are very significant right now in preventing infection and severe illness," he added.

Ireland has 94% of its population fully vaccinated.

Hospital data shows that around 54% of people in ICU with Covid are not fully vaccinated.

"That's a very high figure," Mr Martin added.

"I spoke to some doctors over the Christmas period and one of the first questions they ask people is 'have you been vaccinated?' If a person hasn't been, they ask 'do you regret it'? Invariably the person will say 'I regret not getting that vaccine'.

"All these issues around close contacts have to be kept under review, because the balance is you don't want to take decisions that accelerate further spread."

The Omicron variant is set to peak in the next 10 days, according to modelling data.

Meanwhile, Cabinet has agreed to purchase antiviral pills that can be used to threat people with severe symptoms of Covid-19.

It is expected to be made available next month.

Earlier: Vaccinated passengers to no longer need negative pcr

Ireland is set to remove the requirement for vaccinated passengers to show a negative Covid-19 test before entering the country.

At a meeting of the Cabinet on Wednesday, the Government decided to revise travel rules for entry into Ireland.

The requirement for vaccinated passengers to show either a negative PCR or professionally administered antigen test was introduced late last year following concerns over the spread of the Omicron variant.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin, speaking following the Cabinet meeting, said the rule was no longer needed given the fact that the Omicron variant was now dominant in Ireland.

He said it was not "necessary because Omicron now constitutes 96% of all cases in the country".

It is not yet clear when the change will be introduced but it is expected to be made in the coming days.

Unvaccinated travellers will still need to show a negative PCR test taken 72 hours before arrival.

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