Health Minister self-isolating after experiencing Covid-19 symptoms
Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said the rising spread of Covid-19 should act as an “alert” and he cannot guarantee that most restrictions will be lifted on October 22 as previously planned.
Speaking at Government buildings this evening, he said that rising numbers are a “matter of concern” and the disease has “taken the wrong turn”.
He was speaking after senior government officials warned today that there has been a sudden and unexpected change in the behaviour of the Covid-19 virus that is causing alarm among senior public health officials.
“This is an alert to all of us to knuckle down, refocus on this virus, because it hasn’t gone away,” said Mr Martin.
“I can’t guarantee (the lifting of restrictions on October 22) right now, but we have to wait for further presentation from Nphet. But no decisions have been made or anything like that.”
He said that a presentation from deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn this afternoon was a “serious one”.
The increase in the seven-day incidence of the virus and the pattern of the disease affecting all age groups is a “matter of concern”, he added.
“We have to feed that into whatever decisions we make next week.
“The trajectory of the disease has taken a wrong turn.
“There’s been a sudden increase in the last week in case numbers.”
He said public health officials still want to see further data on the spread of the virus and that this will help the Government make a decision on the planned lifting of restrictions on Friday week.
Mr Martin said that a final decision will be made closer to October 22, but declined to say when.
“We’re going to engage with public health authorities and the HSE in the coming days in the lead up to next week. We’ll make a final decision closer to that date.
“Suffice to say, it’s very important that the public at large realise that Covid has not gone away, that the variant is a dangerous one, numbers are higher in hospital than we would like them to be, they’re at 400 now and they’re having an impact on the hospital system,” he added.
He said those who have not yet been fully vaccinated should get the vaccine and “go back to the basics” in hand washing and observing good hygiene.
Addressing a meeting of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary meeting this evening, Mr Martin said officials were continuing to monitor the evolving situation and the apparent strengthening of the virus in the community, although this was not yet established.
He stressed to TDs and Senators that booster jabs have begun for those over 80, and there would be a continuation of test and trace.
His comments come as Health Minister Stephen Donnelly is currently self-isolating after experiencing symptoms of Covid-19. He has tested negative for the virus but will continue to self-isolate until he is free of symptoms.
Announcing another 2,066 cases of the virus earlier today, Dr Glynn said the spread of Covid-19 among the 370,000 people who are not yet fully vaccinated is having an impact on the numbers being admitted to hospital and ICU.
“Unfortunately, there are still just under 300,000 adults who have not come forward for vaccination and a further 70,000 people have received just one dose of a two-dose schedule,” he said.
“The spread of disease in these 370,000 people is having a disproportionate impact on the profile of Covid-19 in our hospitals and intensive care units, with two out of every three people in intensive care not vaccinated.”
Dr Glynn said that while it is understandable some people will have concerns about vaccination given the “extent of misinformation that is circulating”, he presented a number of facts. Among them that all vaccines approved for use in Ireland are “remarkably safe and effective against getting severe Covid-19” and that there is no evidence that the vaccines affect fertility – in either men or women.
His comments come as senior government officials have been warned that there has been a sudden and unexpected change in the behaviour of the Covid-19 virus that is causing alarm among senior public health officials.
However, the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) will not meet formally until Monday where it will decide on what advice to provide to Government, which will then decide later in the week on whether to relax social distancing rules, limits on attendances at indoor and outdoors and mask wearing outdoors and in indoor private settings as planned.
Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney told RTÉ's News at One that the plan was to press ahead with relaxing restrictions unless there was "compelling evidence" on the trajectory of the disease that warrants a change of approach.
Senior public health officials, including Dr Glynn and Nphet modelling chief Philip Nolan, informed a briefing of the Covid Oversight Group, chaired by the State's most senior civil servant Martin Fraser and made up of department secretaries general and political officials, earlier that there has been a sudden change in Covid data within the last week that they were concerned about.
The senior Nphet officials reported that there is no clearly detectable common pattern at this stage with case numbers rising among all age cohorts.
A senior official said it was unclear whether this was a blip or a sustained step change in the behaviour of the disease but said that Nphet was now worried it could be the latter.
They expressed caution about the further relaxation of restrictions from Friday week, but stressed that Nphet would need to examine further data over the coming days. Another senior official said that they needed to assess whether it was a trend that would carry into next week.
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan is due to return from leave next week and is expected to chair the Nphet meeting on Monday.
Earlier today, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said he could not rule out some restrictions remaining beyond October 22.
“The Delta wave did not turn out to be as severe as we feared, but we have never managed to really get the numbers down in Ireland,” he told the Pat Kenny show on Newstalk.
“The Delta wave swept across Europe but you see countries in central Europe that are now yellow and green zones and we are still in the red zone.”
It is now a pandemic of the unvaccinated and the numbers in intensive care would be at 25 if everyone was fully vaccinated, he added.
While he is keen for the full reopening to go ahead, the Tánaiste said he could not rule out the possibility of some restrictions remaining.
The HSE’s national lead on testing and tracing, Niamh O’Beirne, said that the health service is carrying out around 17,000 tests per day at community sites across the country with a capacity to do 20,000.
The number of tests carried out on Tuesday rose by 11pc compared to the same day last week with testing reported to be “very busy” in Kerry, Waterford, and Cork.
Positivity rates are 10.5pc in community testing but some counties are higher with Kerry reporting a positivity rate of 16.5pc, Waterford 16.5pc, Cavan 13.5pc, Dublin 10pc, and Donegal and Monaghan both at 12pc positivity.
There are 408 Covid-19 patients in hospital today, an increase of six since yesterday. Of these, 69 patients are in intensive care, a fall of four.
The HSE has seen a rise in the positivity rate among people in the community coming forward for testing, rising to 10pc.