Micheál Martin admits worst of pandemic ‘may be ahead of us’

Micheál Martin admits worst of pandemic ‘may be ahead of us’

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said Ireland can expect to see a “large number of Covid cases over the next short period of time” due to the rapid spread and high transmission rate of the Omicron variant.

Dr Tony Holohan’s comments come as a further 7,333 confirmed cases of Covid-19 have been reported in Ireland, the third-highest daily case total since the pandemic began.

On Saturday morning there were 410 Covid patients in hospital, down 10 on yesterday. There are 107 in ICU, up two from yesterday.

Dr Holohan said “we must now work together again” to bring down the incidence of the disease in the community.

“By choosing to act safely right now, together we can limit the impact this disease will have in the weeks to come and in doing so, we can protect the vulnerable, prevent unnecessary deaths and ensure the continued operation of our healthcare system and other essential services,” he said.

In the North, a further five patients who had previously tested positive for Covid-19 have died.

Another 2,075 confirmed cases of the virus were also notified by the Department of Health.

Deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said: “The growth of the Omicron variant represents a significant threat to people’s ability to safely enjoy the Christmas and new year period.

“Over the coming days please think about each of your social contacts and consider whether now is the time to be meeting with them.

“Meet up outside where possible and avoid all crowded settings.

“If you have symptoms please isolate immediately and arrange a PCR test – do not go to work and do not meet up with other people.

“If you are identified as a close contact it is vital that you restrict your movements.”

‘Worst may be ahead of us’

The Taoiseach has said the worst of the pandemic could still be ahead of us due to the threat posed by the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

Micheál Martin also said he couldn’t give any guarantees that more restrictions won’t be needed to deal with the latest wave.

Mr Martin said January could be a very challenging month, but stressed his hopes that schools will return after the Christmas break, while urging households to limit contacts as Omicron spreads rapidly, threatening the capacity of the health system.

The Taoiseach also said he was optimistic that the country will get through the latest wave, and said the Government was looking at developing long-term vaccination capacity.

Amid global alarm over the Omicron spread, he was asked if the worst of the pandemic could still be ahead of us. “It could very well be,” he said. “It’s that severity question that is unknown. The data simply isn’t there.”

Mr Martin also said he would have liked the booster programme to have started earlier and said he also believesantigen tests should have been used more widely at an earlier stage, adding that there had been a disagreement with Nphet on that.

The WHO has warned of the spread of Omicron, with the variant now in 89 countries. Following the teatime Friday announcement of fresh public health restrictions, including an 8pm hospitality shutdown that will run from this Monday until the end of January, the government is reviewing business supports in response to the imposing of the new measures.

Speaking to Brendan O’Connor on RTÉ radio, Mr Martin said there is “a lot of devastation” among those working in hospitality, which he understands, but he added he is also “very clear-minded about the need to do this” regarding the latest restrictions.

“I am very worried to be honest,” he said of the latest variant. “I am apprehensive about what this might mean in terms of sheer scale of cases.”

Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer and at Government Buildings, Dublin.  Picture: Julien Behal

He said it is too early to know whether the latest variant is more or less severe than Delta, with some suggestion among health authorities here that modelling may be optimistic on that front. He said waiting for data from the UK or elsewhere is not viable – “We simply cannot take the chance of waiting for that to happen.”

Of the new restrictions, he said: “We are going to keep them under constant review.” 

When asked if they are likely to be the last restrictions imposed to deal with this latest wave of the virus, he replied: “I can’t give any guarantees in respect of that.”

A number of TDs and Senators railed against the initial suggestion from Nphet that hospitality should have a 5pm closing time, but Mr Martin said he felt that was too early and there needed to be balance, hence the 8pm cut-off time.

“I have this view that you could be pushing people too far too fast into households,” he said, adding that there is the idea of “people having one outing, at least… give people some quality of life”.

He said there is a demarcation between government and Nphet, but he said regarding the slow adoption of antigen testing as a method of restricting the spread of the virus: “T

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