Public health officials will consider new restrictions Thursday as part of an effort to keep Covid-19 under control over the Christmas period.
Several officials said they expect the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) to discuss whether to recommend limiting restrictions at its meeting Thursday, given persistently high infection levels and the unknown impact of the Omicron variant.
Harsh measures along the lines of lockdown are not expected to form part of the discussions, however, with the focus instead on limiting social contact and reducing crowding at hospitality venues.
Such an approach could see capacity limits for recommended in-house hospitality settings, restrictions on booking sizes and reduced opening hours, or enhanced use of Covid certification. Counseling about home visits is also likely to be considered.
Tanist Leo Varadkar told a meeting of his parliamentary party, Fine Gael, that he was «skeptical» that new restrictions were necessary, as the disease tracked optimistic expectations.
However, he noted, coronavirus cases remained at a high level and that more people would socialize over Christmas. Varadkar told Nphet on Monday that he should develop an excessive set of additional restrictions to deploy if the situation worsens, rather than implementing new rules now, it is understood.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin told his party Fianna Fáil that a combination of «vigilance, reduced socialization and an accelerated reinforced campaign» was needed.
There are concerns in political circles that Neft may recommend stricter restrictions after last week’s unexpected measures targeting children’s activities.
It comes as the country confirmed its first case of the Omicron variant, with the US also recording its first case.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said Denvit will meet on Thursday to consider whether more restrictions are needed, «taking into account the delta and uncertainty around the Omicron variable.»
«If we can see extensive use of the vaccine card, whether it’s mandatory or voluntary, all of that will give us more assurance in terms of protection and prevention of transmission,» he said.
Dr Holohan added that nothing should be «inferred» at this point about other recommendations from Nphet.
Dr Holohan said that while cases have slowed and stabilized, they are far too many, and that leaves the country vulnerable to the consequences of a potential increase in socialization around Christmas, as well as uncertainty around Omicron.
Officials are expected to discuss plans to track the spread of the new variant, which is likely hampered by a lack of genome sequencing capacity.
The National Virological Reference Laboratory had hoped to rely on information from the PCR test to identify cases of Omicron. However, its director, Dr. Cillian de Gascon, acknowledged that there was a «lack of correlation» between the information provided through the test and the Omicron cases.
Only one of the first eight samples identified by PCR testing as possible Omicron cases actually turned out to include the new variant. The current capacity only allows sequencing in 5 percent of cases.
There have been calls from members of the House of Representatives at both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael’s parliamentary party meetings to restore full rates to the Employment Wage Support Scheme (EWSS), which were cut this week, although no commitment to this has been made by senior coalition figures.
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