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Taoiseach ‘concerned but hopeful’ about Covid-19 situation

Micheál Martin said this afternoon that he hoped the HSE could deliver 1.5 million booster jabs before the end of the year.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin arriving at Dublin Castle yesterday.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin arriving at Dublin Castle yesterday.
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

THE TAOISEACH HAS said he is “concerned but hopeful” about Ireland’s Covid-19 situation, as he received a booster jab in Cork.

Micheál Martin said on Friday that he hoped the HSE could deliver 1.5 million booster jabs before the end of the year.

Speaking at Cork City Hall, where he joined the queue to receive his own Covid booster jab, he paid tribute to HSE staff at the centre and re-iterated that the uncertainty of the pandemic meant nothing could be ruled out.

“We have a series of restrictions in place now to 9 January. That was agreed by Government following advice from NPHET. One can never rule out anything in relation to Covid-19 because there are many twists and turns,” he said. 

Martin said he believed that people had listened to advice on reducing contacts and were following the latest restrictions.

“There’s been a significant reduction in many events, cancellation of events, and people have adapted and that actually has had a good result in terms of stabilising the numbers in hospital and stabilising the numbers in intensive care, which will give the health service very significant headroom now over the coming weeks,” he said.

He urged people to take care in the weeks ahead, but said that hospital numbers had become more encouraging in recent days.

The Department of Health confirmed a further 4,115 cases of Covid-19 this evening.

As of 8am, there are 511 people in hospital with the virus, with 110 patients in intensive care units.

When asked about the delays seen at vaccination centres in Dublin yesterday, Martin defended the HSE, saying that the booster programme was working well overall.

“The vast majority of vaccination centres yesterday went off well and it was their best day yet – 40,000 people yesterday were vaccinated across the country, so there’s pluses and minuses in the approach being adopted,” he said. 

I think what we were all endeavouring to do this week was to get across the sense of urgency attached to getting the booster, and you could fault the HSE for trying to do everything it could to get as many people vaccinated as possible, but on the other side, I pay tribute to them for doing what they can.

“Obviously they accept that there are some issues around systems and that, but fundamentally the entire effort has been about getting as many people boosted as we possibly can as quickly as we can,” he added.

Martin said that he was “concerned, but also hopeful” about the pandemic as things stand amid the emergence of the new Omicron variant.

“We have a new threat now in the form of a new variant. I think just as we overcame Alpha, overcame Delta, we can overcome this wave as well. But we have to behave sensibly, assess it as we get more information and deal with it.”

But he stressed that boosters were a key tool in the fight against Covid-19.

Earlier, Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan urged the public to get the booster jab because, he said, the Omicron variant “will spread more quickly” than Delta.

He also urged people to stay particularly safe ahead of the Christmas period.

He said he expected the Omicron variant of Covid-19 to become the dominant one, but said it was too early to provide data on when it would happen.

He said that countries across the world were beginning to report widespread community transmission of the variant.

“All of the evidence seems to be that the Omicron will spread more quickly than we’ve seen with Delta,” Holohan told RTÉ News at One.

“The so-called doubling time has been identified as being at much shorter intervals than we’ve experienced previously.

“The important message for people to hear is that we have confidence boosters will have a particularly protective effect.”

Travel advice

Last night, the Government announced that anyone arriving in Ireland from Britain would be asked to take daily antigen tests for five consecutive days after arrival.

Martin said that the advice, which will not be placed on a legal footing, had been taken due to the high volume of travel between the two countries.

Holohan said that some parts of Britain were reporting challenges with widespread transmission.

He said that nine out of the 14 district authorities in Scotland had reported cases associated with the Omicron variant.

“We expect that pattern might repeat itself in other countries in Europe, but at this point in time, the UK has identified it has a significant challenge,” he added.

He said the early evidence was “very clearly pointing” towards an increase in transmissibility.

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“The UK, not exclusively so, but it’s one of the countries that has reported widespread community transmission. We clearly have a close relationship to travel in terms of the Common Travel Area,” Holohan continued.

Six cases of the Omicron variant have been confirmed in Ireland while a number of other probable cases are under investigation.

Asked whether people should reconsider plans to travel to Ireland from Britain, Holohan added: “People will make different risk assessments, depending on their individual circumstances.

“It’s important that people be aware and understand what the pattern of this disease is, and it is changing on an almost daily basis.

“We have to remember that the measures that we have in place in terms of prevention of transmission of Delta will have the same effect in helping to prevent transmission of Omicron.

“The boosters that we have on top of the vaccine, all the early evidence suggests will have a good effect, in particular, in preventing the severe effects of Omicron and the Delta infection.”

He added: “We are 14 days away now from Christmas Eve, so people will be thinking about trying to keep themselves safe, thinking about meeting up with other members of their family, in particular people who are in vulnerable groups.

“The measures that you take now will help to reduce that kind of risk.”

This evening, Holohan urged people to avoid crowds and reduce the number of people they meet to keep themselves safe ahead of Christmas.

He said: “We are all aware that this day two weeks is Christmas Eve, a time of year when we all look forward to coming together with friends and family.

“You can take measures today and in the next few days that will ensure the safest possible interaction with your loved ones over Christmas.

“Risk-assess the environments you plan to be in over the next two weeks – consider if they offer the opportunity to protect yourself with each layer of the public health advice.”

With reporting from PA

About the author:

Jane Moore

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