By David Young, PA
The Government is not contemplating the re-imposition of Covid-19 restrictions in Ireland, the Taoiseach has said.
Micheal 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.
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.
“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 Saturday, a senior HSE official said levels of Covid-19 transmission in Ireland remained “uncomfortably high”.
Chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said the health service was set for a “difficult winter” as staff continued 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 Saturday morning, there were 406 Covid-positive patients in hospital, of whom 71 were in intensive care.