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Taoiseach says 'call to arms' has helped stabilise cases but suggests Christmas will not be 'normal'

Legislation that will allow the government to reinstate mandatory hotel quarantine passed all stages in the Dáil this evening.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin speaking to media outside St Mary’s Mansion, Dublin today.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin speaking to media outside St Mary’s Mansion, Dublin today.
Image: Leah Farrell

Updated Dec 2nd 2021, 10:20 PM

THE TAOISEACH HAS said there has “been a stabilisation” in the number of people in hospital with Covid-19.

Speaking at the launch of the North East Inner City progress report this morning, Micheál Martin said that cases among boosted age groups had also stabilised, adding that recent measures have “had an impact”.

Martin was speaking ahead of a meeting of the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) this evening. 

Once it’s concluded the Chief Medical Officer will send a letter to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly outlining NPHET’s latest recommendations which are expected to include limits on household visits and restrictions on hospitality capacity and opening times. 

Martin said earlier today that he would not be speculating on any advice that may come from that meeting but acknowledged that there are “challenges” ahead.

There has been a stabilisation of hospital numbers, of ICU numbers, and, in some of the older age cohorts where the booster has been rolled out, a downward trajectory on cases. That said, the Delta wave is still at a high level. I think the measures that we announced two weeks ago and the general call to arms where we said to the public to reduce social contacts, work from home where you can, get vaccinated, get the booster, is having an impact. 

Asked should people been planning a normal Christmas, Taoiseach says people have already taken decisions not to attend certain events.

“The advice will come today, already people have taken decisions in relation to certain events that they’ve decided not to attend. So because we’re in the middle of a global pandemic, normal life is not there, it’s  a very different type of experience,” he said.  

Holohan

At NPHET’s meeting today, Health officials considered whether more restrictions should be advised in the context of the current Covid-19 situation, the uncertainties around the Omicron variant, and the vulnerabilities that more socialisation during Christmas can bring.

“From a NPHET point of view, we’ll be mindful to consider not only the current challenge we have and what we’re seeing in terms of the incidence and impact of Delta, but also to consider the emergence of and the uncertainties that still remain in respect of Omicron,” the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Tony Holohan, said yesterday.

“Both the nature of any advice and the duration to which that advice might apply will all be things that we will give consideration to [at the meeting],” the CMO said.

“In relation to the vaccine pass, the government made those assessments last week and our approach to that was set out in the letter. We weren’t very prescriptive in all the settings in which they might or might not be applied.

“But I think to the extent that we could see more extensive use of the vaccine pass, whether mandated or voluntarily, all of that would give us greater assurance in relation to protection, the prevention of transmission.” 

Mandatory Hotel Quarantine 

Yesterday, the first case of the new Omicron variant of Covid-19 was detected in Ireland in an individual who had returned from southern Africa.

Speaking today, An Taoiseach said it will take about two weeks before the wider picture surrounding the Omicron variant of Covid-19 is known.

“Speaking to the President of the European Commission last evening, the basic message there was that it will take the guts of three weeks from last Thursday before scientists will have a comprehensive picture in respect of how infectious, how virulent, to what degree will the new variant escape vaccines,” he said.

In the Dáil this evening, a bill that will allow the government to reinstate mandatory hotel quarantine for people arriving into Ireland from countries deemed to be high risk passed all stages and will now be sent to the Seanad tomorrow. 

It’s part of tighter restrictions aimed at trying to prevent the spread of the Omicron variant.

The Health (Amendment) (No. 3) Bill 2021 allows for the reintroduction on a temporary basis of mandatory quarantine for people coming into the State from certain areas.

It can apply to passengers travelling from areas “where there is known to be sustained human transmission of Covid-19 or any variant of the virus that causes that disease, or from which there is a high risk of importation of infection or contamination with Covid-19 or any variant of that disease by travel from that area”.

The bill can also be used to quarantine people coming into the country in certain circumstances where they fail to comply with requirements for Covid-19 testing. 

Introducing the bill in the Dáil, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said that “unfortunately, the threat of the emergence of variants of disease has not gone away”.

“The coronavirus has served up something none of us wanted to see,” Donnelly said.

He said he expects to see more cases of the Omicron variant in Ireland after the first case was confirmed yesterday.

With the emergence of the variant and uncertainties about its strength and transmissibility, “hotel quarantine may be necessary for a limited time in the interest of protection of public health and to control transmission”.

He said travel measures like mandatory hotel quarantine “give us time to further increase vaccination rates, including the boosters, and time to deploy some very promising new antiviral drugs that are in the pipeline”.

Sinn Féin, the Labour Party and the Social Democrats said they would support the bill, tabling some amendments, including one from Labour that would clarify that anyone travelling back to Ireland after undergoing an abortion procedure would be exempt from the quarantine.

However, this amendment was voted against 67-43 this evening. 

HSE

Speaking at the health service’s weekly update today, HSE chief executive Paul Reid said confirmation that the Omicron variant was detected in Ireland ”probably comes as no surprise to anybody.” 

Reid said the health service is waiting for “more complete information on its transmissibility, ultimately its impact and seriousness in terms of hospitalisations and how it responds to vaccines”.

The briefing heard that the healthcare system is facing “extremely unforgiving demands”, particularly on staffing levels.

Reid said unvaccinated people are having a “really high, disproportionate” impact on the health system.

Screenshot 2021-12-02 at 15.23.30 Source: HSE

The briefing heard that case numbers and hospitalisations have stabilised at a very high level.

Admissions to emergency departments have fallen significantly in recent weeks but the five-day moving average number of cases and ambulance activity are both “very high”. 

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Caseload

Public health officials confirmed 3,793 new cases of Covid-19 in Ireland yesterday.

578 people with Covid-19 were in hospital, including 117 in ICU.

The incidence of the virus is still increasing in younger age groups, particularly in children between ages five and 12, Dr Holohan said.

He said the demand for testing has risen in primary-school age children and is “very close” to the level it was at when schools returned in September after the summer.

“We have a current challenge in terms of high level of case volume, albeit one that appears to have slowed in the response on the public to the measures that have been put in place over the last number of weeks and the increase that adherence to our general public health advice and but slowed and stabilised at a very, very high number,” the CMO said.

That “still leaves us vulnerable” to potential increase in socialisation around Christmas and the Omicron variant, he said.

- With reporting from Rónán Duffy, Jane Moore and Adam Daly.

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Lauren Boland

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