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Why are cases high if our vaccine rate is so good? Our proximity to the UK, says Donnelly

No consideration is being given to re-introducing any restrictions, says the minister.

The minister says NPHET will meet on Monday, and Cabinet will discuss the easing of restrictions on Tuesday.
The minister says NPHET will meet on Monday, and Cabinet will discuss the easing of restrictions on Tuesday.
Image: Sasko Lazarov

HEALTH MINISTER STEPHEN Donnelly has been told by health officials that there are two reasons that might explain why the Covid-19 case numbers are so high in Ireland when over 93% of the population is vaccinated.

Speaking to reporters this afternoon, the health minister said it is the question that many people, including himself, has been asking today. 

“How are new cases high if our vaccine rate is so high? There are two reasons, which I’m being advised on. I’ve been asking exactly the same question,” he said.

“And part of it is the proximity to the UK, where the cases have consistently been very, very high. And obviously we have an awful lot of movement between the Republic and the UK.” 

The second reason, he has been advised, is to do with the fact that the Delta variant arrived in Ireland a lot earlier than most of mainland Europe.

He said there is a “stickiness” in terms of the case levels, and explained that measures and vaccinations can stop the case rate going up to some degree.

But Donnelly claimed that it is more difficult to reduce case numbers to a level they were at previously.

The minister repeated comments by the Taoiseach earlier today that no decision has been made yet on the further easing of restrictions next week.

However, he did state that there has not been “any consideration of going backwards” in terms of re-introducing some restrictions. 

Speaking at Government Buildings today, the Taoiseach would not be drawn on whether the use of the Covid pass to access the likes of pubs and restaurants would be extended beyond 22 October.

“I am not going to speculate what will transpire next week,” he said, stating that the government will discus this over next numbers of days before a decision is taken on Tuesday. 

On 22 October, all remaining Covid-19 restrictions are scheduled to be lifted, including requirements for social distancing, indoor mask-wearing and limits on numbers at events.

The changes will herald the return of businesses like nightclubs.

It is also planned that entry requirements such as vaccination certs or testing will be removed but speaking today, Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris suggested that vaccine certs may remain when nightclubs reopen. 

However, neither the Taoiseach or the Health Minister would confirm today if that was a matter under serious consideration.

Donnelly said that positivity rates for Covid-19 have been increasing “right across the country”.

“We’re seeing it in places that have consistently had very low levels like Kerry, for example,” he said, adding that even places like Waterford, which has one of the highest vaccine rates in Ireland, is seeing a rise in case incidence at the moment. 

“The public health experts are concerned,” he said, stating they still don’t know if the recent rise is just a short term increase or the start of a longer trend.

In terms of the efficacy of the vaccine and how long immunity lasts, the minister said there are mixed reports as to the length of time.

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He said NIAC will be ready to signal what their view is on a booster programme for the wider population shortly.

“The sooner we can get that information, the better,” he said. “If there is evidence of waning vaccinations, then that’s something we need to be ahead of.”

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