The State’s public health team will meet today to discuss tightening rules with restrictions on large sporting events and hospitality as well as warnings about large family gatherings and house parties under consideration.
With just over a week until Christmas, alarm is growing after the UK yesterday recorded the highest daily total of confirmed Covid-19 cases since the pandemic began, with 78,610 new cases notified, an increase of 32 per cent in one day.
New preliminary modelling was presented to the Government on the future trajectory of the Omicron variant, with Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly describing the situation as “very stark”.
Ministers were warned of a likely massive surge of infections as Omicron gets a hold with optimistic scenarios seeing hospital and ICU numbers as high as last January but pessimistic scenarios a lot worse.
Vaccine booster programme
Mr Donnelly was speaking as he announced a significant expansion of the State’s vaccine booster programme last night.
Despite the spread of Omicron, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told a Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting last night that schools would not close early and would reopen as scheduled next year.
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The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) is expected to meet this evening to consider what extra measures can be taken to reduce socialising in the face of the more transmissible variant.
Ministers expect to tighten some restrictions after the Nphet meeting, but sources say there is a sense that severe lockdown-type measures are not likely to be considered.
People may be asked to avoid large gatherings and to cut their close contacts in the lead-up to Christmas. Nphet will also likely discuss rules on tightening restrictions around sporting events over Christmas and around large family gatherings and house parties. People may also be asked to increase their use of antigen tests, particularly before meeting elderly relatives.
On travel, the Government is favouring an EU-wide approach, and harsh new restrictions are not expected as Omicron looks set to be the dominant variant next week.
Cabinet is expected to meet tomorrow to discuss any new recommendations from Nphet, and decide whether to accept that advice.There has been speculation that opening hours for hospitality may be examined, with the possibility of earlier closing times under consideration.
The head of the Restaurants Association of Ireland, Adrian Cummins, last night said any further restrictions on hospitality “will have a devastating economic impact on businesses”.
At a meeting between Coalition leaders and chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan and Prof Philip Nolan on Tuesday evening, politicians were warned that Omicron would spread rapidly and that while vaccines would provide protection, caution would be needed.
As GPs prepare to ramp up booster vaccinations to all age groups and patients, Mr Donnelly last night announced that the 15-minute observation period after a person is administered a Covid-19 vaccine is to be shelved.
This will speed up the vaccination campaign as the Government aims to administer 300,000 shots a week after the Christmas period.
From December 27th, people in their 40s will start to be offered appointments for their next dose. Mr Donnelly said: “Based on what we’re seeing in the UK it’s reasonable to assume that we are looking at a very high number of cases in the coming weeks.”