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Taoiseach Micheál Martin 'extremely concerned' at rise in cases of Covid-19

The Taoiseach indicated that antigen tests are set to be pushed for more regular use in the coming months as a result.

Image: Alamy Stock Photo

THE TAOISEACH HAS said the government is “extremely concerned” at the rise in cases of Covid-19. 

Micheál Martin said the increase is having an impact on hospitals and indicated that antigen tests are set to be pushed for more regular use in the coming months. 

It comes as a further 3,805 new cases have been confirmed in Ireland, with 582 Covid-19 patients in hospital as of 8am today. 106 of those patients are in ICU.

On whether lockdowns could be reimposed, the Taoiseach said today that Ireland is “in a different position to last year, so the language of lockdowns and so on has to be looked at differently because we’re very highly vaccinated as a country”.

“We’re in a different space to where we were last year. That said, we are extremely concerned, very concerned, with the high rise in numbers and indeed the impact that it’s having on hospitalisation, admissions to intensive care units, and illness. Vaccination is protecting but it can’t protect to the 100%, we know that,” he said.

“The booster campaign is being rolled out, that’s very important, and that will continue to expand and will give significant protection to key age groups and cohorts over the coming weeks.

The government wants to see people use antigen tests for Covid-19 on a more regular basis, the Taoiseach added.

Martin said the government wants “to encourage people to utilise antigen tests more frequently and more regularly”.

As reported by The Journal yesterday, the government is looking to subsidise the cost of antigen tests to support people to purchase them at a lower price.

However, it does not expect to provide them for people at no cost, the Taoiseach said today.

“We don’t envisage tests being made free in a general sense,” he said.

Covid-19 test centres, which use PCR tests, experienced their busiest day yet this week.

Over 23,000 tests were carried out in centres around the country on Tuesday in a system that was originally built to support 15,000 tests a day and then expanded to accommodate 20,000 in peak periods.

As the incidence of the virus and the demand for PCR testing rises, more consideration is being given to the role of antigen tests that can be done at home.

Antigen tests were made available for free in England in the UK from April, though a report raised concerns about the performance of the test that was used and plans were floated to end the provision of free tests.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly is expected to bring a proposal to Cabinet this week that would outline the parameters and costs of subsidising tests to request funding from the government’s Covid Contingency Fund.

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The Cabinet will also “take stock” with ministers and the National Public Health Emergency Team of the current Covid-19 landscape around the country.

“We already see that in the over 80s where there’s a decline in the incidence of the disease, those who have got the boosters.

“Secondly, we are looking to expand testing and tracing, in particular antigen testing,” he said.

“The Minister for Health will be bringing forward proposals in respect of the wider deployment of antigen testing and also making it that bit more affordable for people if we want to introduce a culture of greater utilisation by people of antigen testing and I’d add to that making greater tools and communicating more strongly how to use antigen testing and the circumstances in terms of its use.

“And thirdly then, in terms of the recommendations from NPHET in respect of working from home, we will make decisions on that advice early this week – ultimately, at the Tuesday meeting of the Cabinet, but we will have a Covid meeting tomorrow evening to give consideration to that advice and then to have a general stock-take with NPHET and Cabinet ministers in terms of the situation in relation to Covid right now and over the coming weeks.

The Taoiseach was in Enniskillen today for a UK Remembrance Day service.

He continued a precedent set by former Taoiseach Enda Kenny in 2012 by attending the event in Co Fermanagh, where he laid a laurel wreath at the war memorial.

With reporting by Christina Finn and Press Association

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Lauren Boland

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