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No plans for more restrictions this week, but Martin can't rule out discussions after Christmas

Micheál Martin said they are waiting on the key data on the impact of Omicron and its severity.

Image: Sasko Lazarov

Updated Dec 22nd 2021, 11:40 AM

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has said there are “no plans for meetings this week” to discuss the Covid-19 situation but said he could not rule out further discussions to assess matters after Christmas. 

“We said from the outset these [restrictions] would be in place until the end of January but they would be kept on constant review,” said Martin. 

Until 30 January all restaurants, bars, cinemas and theatres must close at 8pm, there is a 50% capacity limit at live events and sports, and tighter movement restrictions for close contacts of Covid cases.

This morning, President Michael D Higgins signed the Health and Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill into law, extending the Government’s Covid-19 emergency powers into the new year.

The Bill — which was passed by 87 votes to 48 in the Dáil earlier this month — provides for the extension of the emergency provisions until March 31, 2022 with the possibility of one further extension for a period of three months.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan, meanwhile, has said the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) will continue to monitor international data around Omicron over the Christmas period.

Appearing on RTÉ Radio 1′s Today programme this morning, Holohan was asked whether he was comfortable ruling out any changes to the restrictions before New Year.

“We will keep an eye on the ongoing data and evidence,” Holohan said.

“We’ve seen in a number of European countries, their arrangements that are in place in terms of public health measures are increasing and changing all the time.

He added: “But the key message for us, for now, is that government has made a significant set of decisions. It’s having a significant impact on many sectors of the economy. It’s a real challenge for many people to adhere to and comply with some of the requirements if you like, of those measures.

“But we need to get the most out of them.”

The Taoiseach’s and the CMO’s comments come after another record day for the vaccine rollout. HSE CEO Paul Reid said this morning that 108,000 vaccines in total were administered yesterday, including 103,000 boosters.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also ruled out any further restrictions for Christmas. 

However, Stormont ministers are meeting this afternoon to consider new Covid restrictions for Northern Ireland.

The virtual meeting of the powersharing Executive comes amid stark warnings of soaring infection rates when the Omicron variant takes hold in the region.

The administration is set to consider a range of post-Christmas steps aimed at suppressing community transmission of the virus.

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While no widespread shutdown of sectors of the economy or society is expected, ministers may move to close down nightclubs again.

The rest of Northern Ireland’s hospitality sector could see the reintroduction of restrictions aimed at reducing interaction.

Fresh guidance on limiting household mixing in domestic settings is also set to be considered.

First Minister Paul Givan and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill are expected to take part in a press conference after Wednesday’s Executive meeting.

Daily contact

The Taoiseach told reporters yesterday that he is in daily contact with officials and public health experts to get a read on the situation.

The government is still awaiting data on the impact the Omicron variant might have on hospitalisations and ICU, stating there is still a great deal of uncertainty. 

“But in terms of any further advices, they will obviously come from NPHET. But I would see something similar to what occurred last week – we would have engagement, talking through issues before we have formal meetings, and those engagements would be between the key principals,” he said, adding that there have been many “twists and turns” so it makes sense the government keep it under review.

He said people need some degree of a “settled horizon” which is why government were anxious to make it clear that given that decisions were only made last Friday, that time be given to assess the impact of the latest restrictions.

“So there are no plans for meetings this week, or for any change to the situation this week,” he said. 

When asked if meetings might be held next week, he said: 

“I think I said last week that a week is a long time in Covid… We’ll have to see.

“The key data we’re waiting on is the impact of Omicron and its severity – how severe is Omicron? And some studies are emerging – we’re watching South Africa but it may not be demographically applicable to here, seasonality-wise,” he said

“The United Kingdom is clearly one that we have to watch in terms of similarities, in terms of research that’s going on there, so that will inform how we approach this. We’ll look at numbers and so forth. But we’re very hopeful, well, hopeful that the combination of measures we’ve taken so far and the rollout of the booster campaign will enable us to get through this.”

“But as I’ve said consistently, nobody can rule anything out,” he added. 

Yesterday, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the plan is to have the current restrictions in place until 30 January, but to keep everything under close review so as to see “if it deteriorates” or if it turns out “not as bad as we feared”.  

He said the government decided to get their communications right with the public, stating that it was agreed that it wold be “would better not to be speculating on review dates” or on the possibility of the restrictions being eased sooner or tightened. He said such speculation is “unfair” on people. 

There are “no plans to ease them between now and then,” he said.  

Speaking on RTÉ’s Radio 1′s Morning Ireland programme this morning, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe said the expansion of Covid-19 business supports announced yesterday, will remain in place until at least the end of January but possibly until April.

Additional reporting by Ian Curran and PA

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