Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said he hopes people will not be frightened by “record” Covid-19 cases which will be seen in the coming days.
Mr Varadkar on Monday said that because Omicron was so transmissible, a lot of people in hospital may get it but not be in hospital because of it, and there may be a more severe impact on primary care, GP and pharmacy services.
“There will be very high case numbers and I hope people won’t be too afraid to see that because this is a much more transmissible strain of the virus so we will see very high case numbers,” he said.
“But we are hoping and expecting that it won’t translate into hospitalisations and ICU admissions and deaths in the extent that it did in previous waves. There are some hopeful signs from South Africa and elsewhere in that regard.”
The Tánaiste’s comments come as a set of new restrictions designed to combat the spread of the dsiease come into effect on Monday, including rules that will see pubs, restaurants, cinemas and theatres close by 8pm.
Mr Varadkar announced that the Covid Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS) will be extended to all businesses that are affected by the new closing times. Companies can receive up to €5,000 a week if they have been affected.
At present, if a company has been forced to close temporarily or reduce opening hours, and if turnover is no more than 25 per cent of what it was in 2019, they qualify for the scheme.
Mr Varadkar told Morning Ireland that this is now being revised. “The rule at the moment is that you have to be closed or down or lose 75 per cent of your turnover,” he said.
“We are going to relax the rules around that so so if a business is restricted in terms of hours or capacity, they will get that weekly payment. That will be really important for the hospitality and arts and entertainment sector.
“They will be getting the kind of financial supports when it comes to wages and overheads that they would have got back during the full lockdown when they were entirely closed.”
He anticipated that the scheme will be signed off on either before or after the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.
“One thing we have to consider and this probably isn’t for now it’s for after the Omicron wave and when we’ve conquered that and we’re in a better place, is to give consideration to giving people periods of greater freedom on the understanding that future variants may come along and the winter will come inevitably.”
Denmark and Norway were potential models to follow, he said. They have had periods for several months where they have had almost no restrictions at all.
He told RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland programme there were no plans to impose more severe restrictions in Ireland before the New Year or after it, but as chief medical officer Tony Holohan has said, that cannot be ruled out.
“As everyone knows this virus has surprised us on many occasions and if we have to, we will do whatever is necessary to protect human life and to protect health and prevent our health service from being overwhelmed, but we don’t anticipate that will be necessary.”
Mr Varadkar said the new restrictions that had been introduced were designed to reduce amount of social mixing by about 30 per cent and “flatten the curve”. He said Delta had not gone away.
Increased numbers of people isolating at home could have an impact on both the private and public sector, he said, but there were protocols that can be put in place to make sure that essential services continue, at power stations for example.
On schools, Mr Varadkar did not foresee them not reopening in January after the Christmas break.
The Tánaiste said the incidence of Covid in schools had peaked and has been falling. There was no case to close the schools early, and schools and colleges would reopen as planned in January, he said. “And if there’s any change to that you’ll hear it from the Minister for Education and no-one else.”
Earlier, Dr Holohan said he envisaged no further lockdown measures if the public adhere to the restrictions that are in place.
Dr Holohan stressed the importance of personal responsibility and called on the public to follow “the spirit and the letter” of the new restrictions.
He urged the public to avoid meeting up during the Christmas period, though he acknowledged this will be hard.
“We need to confine our engagements as much as possible and don’t meet up with multiple groups of people,” he said.
“The wave of infection is right in front of us. The measures we take right now are going to protect us. That is what we need to focus on. Governments have made this decision,” he said.
Dr Holohan told Morning Ireland that it was “simply untrue” to suggest that a meeting is scheduled for December 30th to announce a lockdown.
“Nothing is ever ruled out, but a series of measures has been mandated by Government and they are only coming into effect today,” he said.
“We believe they will substantially cut the total volume of contacts across society and we now, as