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A screen at the Department of Health on 21 April 2020 displaying some of the restrictions at the time Sam Boal/
emergency powers

Covid-19 powers allowing Government to impose legal restrictions to be let lapse tomorrow

However, healthcare workers are warning that a surge in Covid-19 cases and hospitalisations is pressuring on the sector.

THE EMERGENCY POWERS permitting the government to impose legal restrictions during the pandemic appear set to be allowed lapse as planned tomorrow night.

The powers have previously been reintroduced on several occasions as the pandemic continued to rage on.

This time, the government is preparing to let the legislation fall.

In the Dáil today, Taoiseach Micheál Martin confirmed that no amendment has been brought forward to the legislation, while Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told RTÉ Radio One that the government does not believe it is “appropriate” to impose new legal restrictions at this time.

However, healthcare workers are warning that a surge in Covid-19 cases and hospitalisations is putting immense pressure on the health sector, with hospitals experiencing a rise in overcrowding.

The new BA2 variant that is currently spreading is about 30% more contagious, but not more dangerous, than the BA1 Omicron variant.

Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One, Varadkar said that “what we’re experiencing is a very serious second wave of Omicron, largely driven by a very transmissible subvariant, but bear in mind from day one of Covid our objective was to prevent deaths and protect our health service from being overwhelmed”.

“Thankfully, we’re not seeing very high levels of deaths at the moment during this wave and the numbers of ICU, and that is the pinch point, is about 49 today, and only about 20 or so ventilation,” he said.

This is a very different wave to what we would have experienced previously and we don’t think that it’s appropriate to impose new legal restrictions on society and economy.

“We expect it will peak in the next two weeks. We’ll certainly be in a much better position by the end of April and the focus has to be on vaccines, encouraging people to isolated if they’re sick, wearing masks in indoor settings, ventilation, getting outdoors and continuing to increase our health service capacity.”

But the chief executive of the HSE, Paul Reid, warned earlier this week that healthcare system expects to be dealing with a high caseload throughout April as the number of patients with Covid-19 in hospital steadily climbs.

“We don’t have any indications or any modelling to say to us that this is on a downward trend. In fact, all our experience is it’s increasing,” Reid said.
He said the significant presence of Covid-19 in hospitals has knock-on effects on care for other patients.

“It’s not just the people who are admitted for Covid; it is the total number of Covid patients that we have to treat, which has a very disproportionate impact because we have to create wards… we have to create isolation [for people with Covid-19].”

The number of patients with Covid-19 in hospital over the last two weeks have reached heights that have not been seen since early 2021.

As of 8am this morning, there are 1,610 hospital patients with Covid-19, including 49 in ICU.

At the same time, the Irish Medical Organisation has called an emergency meeting of non-consultant hospital doctors to address “deteriorating working conditions and contract abuses”.

The chair of the IMO NCHD committee Dr John Cannon said it would consider various steps to have the situation addressed, including industrial action.

“No doctor ever wants to go take industrial action let alone go on strike so the fact that this is even part of the conversation shows how unsustainable the present situation is,” Dr Cannon said.

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