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NPHET to meet ahead of reopening decision as HSE boss says it's 'back to basics'

NPHET is due to meet at 2pm before delivering its advice to the Cabinet Covid-19 sub-committee.

Updated Oct 18th 2021, 9:43 AM

007 NPHET meeting (1) NPHET's modelling Chair Professor Philip Nolan, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn and Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan. Source: Sasko Lazarov

THE NATIONAL PUBLIC Health Emergency Team (NPHET) will meet this afternoon before giving its advice to Government ahead of the planned easing of restrictions on Friday. 

Almost all remaining Covid-19 restrictions are due to be lifted on 22 October but a recent rise in cases numbers and hospitalisations has thrown the plan into doubt.

HSE CEO Paul Reid warned this morning that with 482 people currently in hospital with Covid-19, 74 of whom are in ICU, it is “time for us all to hit the reset button”. 

“If unvaccinated you’re at higher risk, resulting in disproportionate impact. Do the right thing,” Reid said on Twitter. 

“For the rest of us, time to do the basics well again. Both of the above work.”

NPHET is due to meet at 2pm before delivering its advice to the Cabinet Covid-19 sub-committee. A final decision will be taken by Cabinet tomorrow. 

Government has already indicated that the requirement to show a Digital Covid-19 Certificate in hospitality settings to prove you’ve been vaccinated is likely to be extended beyond Friday. 

Government will also consider increasing attendance at indoor and outdoor events, as well as the reopening of nightclubs, which have been defined by NPHET throughout the pandemic as a high-risk setting. 

Those in Government circles remain confident that numbers at indoor and outdoor events could increase and that longer opening hours for bars and restaurants could also be given the green light.

Sources indicate that at the highest levels “an abundance of caution” appears to be the theme of the week, however, it has been noted that over the weekend many scientists and experts still seem to favour a “proceed but with passes and other controls” strategy. 

“If not now, when?” appears to be the question from many within government this week.

It comes after a further 2,180 cases were reported on Saturday – the highest number since January – and 1,380 cases yesterday.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said the Government is not contemplating the re-imposition of Covid-19 restrictions in Ireland.

Martin insisted the vaccine rollout had put Ireland in a different situation from earlier in the pandemic, despite rising infection rates. 

In an interview with the Sunday Independent, Mr Martin said introducing further restrictions was not being considered.

“We do not want to go back, and we are not contemplating going backwards,” he said.

“The only issue facing us now is going forward and that is a decision we will make on the advice we receive from NPHET.”

He said the country was in a “completely different situation” than it was earlier in the pandemic because over 90% of the population was vaccinated.

Martin said while it was not the Government intention to go backwards in terms of restrictions, the “only caveat” he would attach to that was the “twists and turns” of the vaccine.

Government is understood to be looking to Britain, which has had no restrictions for months.

It is being noted that while the numbers are bad there, it is not overwhelming their system.

There are concerns that Ireland’s trajectory could mean that within a few weeks Ireland could be on the same level as Britain, yet still have the restrictions in place.

 

There is also a feeling of frustration at government level today following comments made by the deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn in relation to urging people to work from home this winter if they can.

Government sources feel it created mixed messaging, as government policy has not changed in relation to the staggered return to work. 

Meanwhile, the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) is also set to meet today to consider whether the vaccine booster programme should be expanded beyond the over-80 age cohort and those with suppressed immunity.

Martin said he would favour an expansion.

“Right now we are only administering the booster to over-80s and those who are auto-immune-suppressed,” he told the Sunday Independent.

“But I would like to see that expanded. And to healthcare workers too.”

The Taoiseach indicated he would not favour any move to make vaccination mandatory for healthcare workers.

“The voluntary nature of our vaccination programme has been an outstanding success,” he said.

On Sunday, Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys said there is concern in Government about increasing transmission rates.

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She said Cabinet deliberations on Tuesday following the NPHET meeting will focus on the remaining restrictions, with the ongoing use of Covid certification set to be one issue under consideration.

“We are concerned about the rising numbers, and we will be making a decision on Tuesday, and we will be looking at the remaining restrictions,” she told RTE One’s The Week in Politics.

“We’re not going back, that’s important to say, but we’re looking at what we’re going to do regarding the remaining restrictions, we’re going to look at Covid certs and we’re going to look at booster vaccinations, and those are all of the issues that we take into consideration in terms of a Government policy.”

Humphrey was also asked whether a call by Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn for people to work from home where possible over the autumn and winter is at odds with the Government’s phased return to the workplace plan.

The minister insisted Government policy is clear.

“We want a phased return to work,” she said.

“And we will continue to work with employers, who I know have been facilitating this.”

She said it is important that employers also facilitate some staff to continue to work from home.

With reporting from Press Association 

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