By Cate McCurry, PA
Public health experts believe that Ireland’s close proximity to the UK combined with people spending more time indoors because of the weather could be to blame for the rising Covid cases, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said.
Ireland is facing a surge in the number of Covid-19 cases and people admitted to hospital with the virus, despite the high vaccination rate.
The Government has announced an easing of Covid-19 restrictions that will see some sectors reopen, although some measures will stay in place until February 2022.
On Friday, the country’s night-time industry will be allowed to fully reopen, with restrictions on opening hours lifted.
While nightclubs will reopen for the first time since March 2020, a number of robust measures will be put in place, including Covid passes and the wearing of face masks.
Mr Martin was asked by Labour leader Alan Kelly why cases have risen dramatically in recent weeks.
Mr Martin said: “The public health experts believe that our close proximity to the UK, the high incidence of the disease as we were vaccinating, the Delta variant in particular, which is very transmissible, the seasonality of our climate and resulting behaviours in terms of indoor activity could be factors in explaining why a country with high vaccination has very high incidence of the disease.”
Mr Kelly criticised the Government’s plan to reopen sectors that have been shut for more than 18 months.
A number of anomalies in the plan have caused confusion, including allowing people to dance in nightclubs but customers in pubs and restaurants will have to be served at a table.
On the new covid regulations @alankellylabour asks the Taoiseach when the last time he was in a nightclub was?
The government need to engage with the sector that is on its knees before announcing new restrictions
He also asks are the govt planning on using antigen tests? pic.twitter.com/NgyxgdyS2P
— The Labour Party (@labour) October 20, 2021
Representatives from the hospitality sector are meeting with Government officials on Wednesday to discuss how the guidelines will be implemented.
“It is unworkable and incomprehensible. The Government should have consulted in advance,” Mr Kelly said.
“The cart was put before the horse.
“A number of weeks ago, we were one of the few parties in opposition that supported the extension of the regulations, so we understand where the increasing case numbers left the Government.
“However, this industry has been on its knees. We need consistency in the approach. The Covid certificate has to be enforced properly.
“We need industry buy-in in that regard.
“We also need to ensure that there are proper regulations and guidance around ventilation, something that always seems to be forgotten.”
Mr Kelly added: “A pub that changes into a nightclub cannot change its rules in a matter of minutes.
“People at live entertainment can stand up and dance, but if they are in a nightclub, they can only dance. This is all unnatural.
“We need to get back to first basics – personal responsibility, the 100% imposition of certificates, ventilation — but asking Failte Ireland and others to do this will not work.
“It is not natural and these rules are ridiculous. I hope the Government will bear that in mind.”
Mr Martin said there were 464 people in hospital on Wednesday morning, with 74 patients in intensive care.
Around two-thirds of people in intensive are unvaccinated.
Mr Martin said the plan to reopen is not simple, adding that there are challenges.
“What is critical is that, as we reopen further in the context of a deteriorating situation in relation to the prevalence of the disease and its penetration into hospitals, we do so in a cautious way,” Mr Martin added.
“That is the central message of yesterday.”