By Cate McCurry and Dominic McGrath, PA
The Cabinet subcommittee on Covid-19 is meeting to discuss the latest health advice, as the number of people in hospital with Covid surpassed 600 on Monday.
The Department of Health confirmed 4,570 new cases have been notified, adding that as of 8am on Monday morning, there are 622 Covid patients in hospital, 117 of whom were in ICU.
Government ministers will to consider the latest advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) at today's meeting, aiming to tackle the rising number of cases.
The @hpscireland has today been notified of 4,570* confirmed cases of #COVID19.
As of 8am today, 622 COVID-19 patients are hospitalised, of which 117 are in ICU.
*Daily case numbers may change due to future data validation
— Department of Health (@roinnslainte) November 15, 2021
Last week, public health experts recommended the Government advise people to work from home when possible.
The committee will also consider a more general use of antigen tests and expanding the use of Covid passes.
Hairdressers and gyms are among some of the places ministers will examine as part of measures to curb the spread of the virus.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said there were lessons to be learned from other countries, including the UK, in how antigen tests were rolled out.
Mr Martin said he supported the subsidisation of antigen tests to make them “more affordable”, particularly over winter.
Mr Martin also said he spoke to business traders earlier on Monday ahead of the Government’s consideration of Nphet’s advice on working from home. He said that the economy suffered when Covid was not “kept in check”.
“There is an inextricable link between the economy doing well and how we keep a lid on Covid,” he added.
“They (traders) do appreciate there has been a significant bounce-back in the economy.
“One of the big issues they have is getting the staff for their various enterprises.
“That illustrates that thousands of people have come back, so the increase in socialisation, the reopening of the economy invariably has led to high case numbers.”
Mr Martin also appealed to people to reduce how much they were socialising, as that would have the biggest impact on reducing the number of Covid cases.
“We have to look at that, individually and collectively as a society.
“That’s important to keep the lid on the virus,” Mr Martin added.
“We are in a much different position this year than last year because of the power of vaccination.
“We are in a serious situation in terms of the rising cases and the health services are under pressure, not just because of Covid, but this year we have a higher level of non-Covid respiratory illnesses.
“That’s creating pressures. Across Europe there is essentially a fourth wave. There’s a number of steps we can take.
“The rollout of the booster programme is important, and already the data from our public health authorities is that the over-80s age cohort, there is a declining incidence of the disease.
“We are rolling out antigen testing to a more significant degree across wider society.
“We will engage with Nphet and work through the advice in respect of working from home and indeed other issues we will give consideration to.”
On Monday afternoon, Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien told reporters that he expected a detailed discussion at Cabinet on Tuesday morning about the latest measures to tackle the country's increasing rate of Covid-19.
He said the Government would be looking specifically at a “reboot” of some of the measures currently in place.
Mr O’Brien referenced the use of the Covid-19 certificate, as well as antigen testing and mask-wearing.
“The figures are concerning and Government are concerned about the increasing incidence of Covid-19 and particularly hospitalisation,” he told reporters at the Custom House in Dublin city centre.
“We need to make sure that our health system is not put under undue strain and that we manage that through, and I think we’ve been able to do that successfully by taking public health advice and by taking that on board and actually implementing the advice that we are given,” he said.
“I would expect quite a detailed discussion tomorrow at cabinet on the proposals that will be brought forward.”
“I don’t see the situation where we’re looking at re-imposing any restrictions.”
Mr O’Brien said that he would like to see the rollout of the booster programme expedited.
“I think what I’d like to see is the rollout of the booster programme expedited, particularly (to) those who need it most – the elderly and those who may be immunocompromised as well, and that is actually happening.”
“Now we need to look at other cohorts as to how we can speed up the rollout of the booster programme.”
Earlier, the Minister for Tourism, Catherine Martin, said the public needed guidance on when and how to use antigen tests.
“I think what they (the public) need now is guidance on that and that’s what needed to be discussed at the cabinet committee, the types of tests that should be used, when they should be used, how to use them.
She added that the tests should be more affordable and accessible.
The Minister also appeared to rule out the hospitality sector using antigen tests alongside Covid passes, saying it was not financially viable for venues.
She added that compliance with Covid certs and checking identification needed to continue.
“I would say that since July, until the end of October, the HSA (Health and Safety Authority) did do 645 checks, and this included 100 checks on late-night venues.
“The HSE (Health and Safety Executive) did almost 12,000 checks in that same time.”