Ireland has had the the highest rate of Covid 19 infection in the world in the past seven days, it has emerged.
It comes as the Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he is “not ashamed” of the government’s handling of Covid-19 before Christmas.
Ireland has had 10,100 confirmed cases per million people in the last seven days, according to the latest data released by Bloomberg and collated by Johns Hopkins, the WHO and other organisations.
This rate makes Ireland the most Covid-infected nation in the world in the past week.
There are currently 1,575 in hospital with the virus as of this afternoon, with 146 in ICU.
The latest sample of 92 positive tests examined by the National Virus Reference Lab shows that 45pc of positive cases are of the UK variant, showing the strain’s ever-growing presence in Ireland.
The Taoiseach said the government accepted their responsibility when it came to the rapid increase of cases after the easing of restrictions, but pointed the finger towards increased socialisation and the presence of the UK variant as the real drivers of the spread of Covid-19.
Mr Martin said the government has “always responded effectively” to the latest surges despite incidence rates now being higher in Ireland than any other country in Europe, the UK or the US - the worst hit country in the world.
Speaking with Pat Kenny on Newstalk Radio, the Taoiseach refuted the claims that Ireland engaged in three weeks of freedom before Christmas with a view to having three months of a lockdown afterwards.
“It’s not as simple as that. We had been in a very prolonged period of restrictions of one kind or the other and coming into December period we had six weeks of Level 5.
“The socialisation that emerged in December alongside the new variants, and as Prof Paul Moynagh pointed out, don’t underestimate the seasonality of this virus”.
While it was pointed out to the Taoiseach that opening the restaurants and gastropubs created the “perfect environment for the virus to spread”, Mr Martin said that households gave the virus just as good an opportunity.
The Taoiseach said it was clear to government towards early December that the public’s patience with lockdown measures were beginning to wear thin and “compliance was weakening.”
“There are various levels to which you can impose restrictions on people and that became clear to us in the last two weeks of [Level 5 lockdown before Christmas]. It would be very simplistic to focus on one area,” the Taoiseach said, adding that the hospitality sector being open appeared to only have an effect of 0.2 on the R rate.
Mr Martin refused to accept that there were mixed messages from government as people in Ireland were asked to isolate before meeting loved ones at Christmas while travellers were free to enter Ireland without producing a negative test result.
The Taoiseach insisted that “the measures worked” as the levels of the disease were low in early December and added it is “very difficult” to seal the border.
Mr Martin said there were repeated calls to lessen harsh restrictions before Christmas and insisted that new data shows the UK variant was a large contributor to the “rapidity of the growth” in Ireland.
The Taoiseach insisted the government acted quickly enough once the gravity of the spread became known, pointing out: “We didn’t have a New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day or the socialisation on Christmas Eve because we moved to go back to Level 5 during Christmas week”.
Meanwhile, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar today said that he envisages only “very minor” if any lessening of restrictions at the end of January as the level of disease is still far too high.
Speaking on Today FM, Mr Varadkar said that while case numbers should fall in the coming days, they are falling from too high a level to predict any real movement on restrictions.
“The cases are falling, this hasn’t been reflected in the case numbers in recent days, but it will start to show. The problem is that they are falling from such a high level, and hospital numbers and ICU numbers are still very high”.
Mr Varadkar said he has been telling businesses that are closed from January that they should expect to be closed until the end of February, “or maybe even the end of March.”
The Tánaiste said Ireland is ahead of schedule in terms of vaccinations and said the plan was to have all nursing home residents, healthcare workers, elderly people and those with underlying conditions vaccinated by Easter.
He said this had the potential to reduce the death rate “by up to 98pc and also reduce hospitalisations by a huge number” also.
Mr Varadkar predicted a good summer for Irish people but added that it wouldn’t be a normal one.
It is intended to vaccinate 100,000 of the general population each week through GPs, pharmacies and mass testing centres after Easter when the supply of the vaccine is available.
“We simply don’t have the supply at the minute to do that,” the Tánaiste said.