By Cate McCurry and Dominic McGrath, PA
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.
🧵Here are today's walk-in #COVIDVaccine clinics. We're operating walk-in clinics for dose 1 and dose 2, and booster vaccine clinics for healthcare workers, people over 30 and some clinics for 16-29s.
⤵️ Keep an eye for updates on queueing times throughout the day. #ForUsAll pic.twitter.com/OJ9ilmiJDB
— HSE Ireland (@HSELive) January 5, 2022
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 per cent of its population fully vaccinated.
Hospital data shows that around 54 per cent 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, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan indicated that he was optimistic fresh restrictions could be avoided.
Mr Ryan said health officials believed Ireland may be close to the peak of the current wave of the virus, which has been fuelled by the Omicron variant.
“It is a very large wave, but it won’t be as long,” he predicted.
He indicated that the Government would support a quicker reopening of the economy as soon as it is safe to do so.
“Part of our public health is the ability to socialise, the ability to work, the ability to go to schools and colleges,” he said.
While he did not rule out the need for fresh restrictions, he said: “At the moment, I think the measures we introduced before Christmas were the right ones.”
Under the rules introduced in Ireland before Christmas, nightclubs have been shut and large swathes of the hospitality industry ordered to close at 8pm.
Mr Ryan also said that relaxing the rules on restriction of movement for fully vaccinated close contacts would make sense, given the pressures on various sectors.
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath also spoke to reporters ahead of the Cabinet meeting.
“The Government has not had any indication that Nphet intend to bring forward additional restrictions on the economy or society,” he said.
He warned that Omicron was still “rampant” and the Government was monitoring the latest data to emerge from hospitals.
“There is no room for complacency and we are watching and monitoring the situation in hospitals very closely. And we recognise there are real pressures there,” he said.
“The advice at this point is that we’re not quite at the peak. We are coming close to the peak, it could be in the coming days, it could be in the next week to 10 days, nobody knows for sure.”