Politics

New restrictions announced for first time since last winter

Warning that if the numbers of Covid cases continues to grow, the health service will be unable to cope, Taoiseach Micheál Martin on Tuesday night announced new Covid restrictions for the first time since last winter.

People will be advised to work from home, a midnight closing time will be imposed on bars and nightclubs, there will be wider use of antigen tests, and close household contacts of confirmed cases will be told to restrict movements for five days.

It is expected that a plan to supply Government-subsidised antigen tests for €3 each through pharmacies will be announced in the coming days, despite some resistance in the Department of Health.

The department said that proposals would be brought to Government “very shortly” and that it would finalise a plan for using rapid antigen tests in schools for close contacts of cases.

But Mr Martin evinced little confidence that the moves announced last night would contain the current wave of the virus, saying that it “remains to be seen if the measures will be sufficient” and that he was “not ruling out further measures”. Senior Government figures fear that further restrictions will be necessary in the coming weeks as cases in hospitals continue to mount.

“We’re taking this step by step,” Mr Martin said. The situation would be reviewed in the coming weeks to see if additional measures are required, he said. He said public health experts have indicated they may return with further recommendations in the future if cases continue to rise at the current rate.





Total doses distributed to IrelandTotal doses administered in Ireland


8,557,330


7,427,052





Confirmed cases in hospitalConfirmed cases in ICU


614


114

Intense pressure

Revised modelling shown to the Government suggests that the peak of the current wave will not arrive for about another four weeks, meaning that hospitals face intense pressure in the meantime.

Senior Government figures say that they need to accelerate the programme of booster vaccines, though concede that this will not affect the pressures that hospitals will face in the immediate future. Opposition parties have criticised the pace of the vaccine rollout.

The HSE began administering booster shots to the 460,000 people in their 60s on November 5th. However, uptake has been slower than anticipated due to substantial non-attendance rates among people booked for appointments.

Only 20,500 boosters have been administered to the 60-69 age group, a month after the Government announced they would be included in the programme.

Sources say vaccination staff haven’t observed the same urgency among people about receiving a booster as existed when primary vaccines were being administered.

A total of 341,000 booster doses have so far been administered, including 23,500 to older residents of long-term care facilities, 100,000 to the 70-79 age group and 131,000 to people aged 80 and over.

Extension

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly on Tuesday announced the extension of the booster vaccination programme to include the over-50s, those with underlying medical conditions and residents of any age in long-term healthcare facilities.

Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys said that the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) “would not be reopened” for people who may lose their jobs in nightclubs, stressing that there were many vacancies in the wider hospitality sector. Both Labour and Sinn Féin called for cuts to the PUP to be reversed.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald accused the Government of “dithering and delaying” on antigen testing, the resourcing of the health service and the booster vaccination campaign.

“On the booster programme, we’ve listened to weeks and months of prevarication on this. So if we’re now at a sticky wicket, it is courtesy of this Government and I really feel very deeply for those businesses that are only just reopened and find themselves back at square one again,” Ms McDonald said.


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