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Boost up Booster vaccines to be extended ‘significantly’ as antigen tests rolled out in schools

New modelling says virus peak now further away and numbers in ICU to continue to rise

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Health Minister Stephen Donnelly. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has said he expects the use of Covid-19 booster vaccine to be extended significantly as ministers were warned tonight that the peak of the virus is now further away than first thought.

He said that evidence for boosters is “incredibly strong” and that he is waiting advice from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) this evening.

Niac is expected to recommend booster jabs for all adults aged over 50.

“The indications are that it is positive in terms of adding a significant number to those who would be availing of boosters,” he said.

Mr Donnelly said that it is “all hands on deck” in rolling out of the booster shots.

Meanwhile antigen tests are to be introduced in schools to test asymptomatic children who are close contacts of confirmed cases of Covid-19.

Mr Donnelly will bring a memo to Cabinet on Tuesday outlining a range of new measures related to rapid testing.

Central to the plan will be rolling out the tests in secondary and primary schools for students who have come in contact with classmates who tested positive for Covid-19.

A student who tests positive after an antigen test will also be required to get a PCR test.

Any student displaying symptoms of Covid-19 will be required to get a PCR test rather than an antigen test.

Mr Donnelly will also outline plans to subsidise the cost of antigen tests to encourage people to use them.

It comes as the Cabinet Committee on Covid-19 are meeting this evening to discuss the rising virus case numbers and the high level of hospitalisations and intensive care unit admissions.

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Taoiseach Micheál Martin and his senior ministers are discussing the recommendations of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet).

The Cabinet committee is expected to accept the majority of Nphet’s advice on encouraging people to work from home where possible and introducing stricter rules on mask wearing in crowded areas both indoors and outdoors.

There is also expected to be a renewed focus on ensuring the hospitality sector enforce the use of Covid passes for entry to restaurants, pubs, cafes and nightclubs.

Government sources said Nphet’s recommendation to expand the use of Covid passes to other sectors will be examined by the Cabinet committee.

The source said they did not expect any “draconian” new restrictions, but said the Government recognises there is a need for people to reduce their socialising.

Mr Martin is planning to make a live televised address tomorrow to outline the seriousness of the current situation with the virus.

Nphet's Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group head Prof Philip Nolan is giving updated modelling to the Cabinet Committee. A Government source said the peak of the current wave is further away than first anticipated and high case numbers will continue to be recorded over the coming weeks.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, Mr Donnelly said the numbers of positive cases, as well as patients in hospital and ICU with Covid-19 are set to rise in the coming weeks.

Mr Donnelly said that “early indications” from Niac are that a “significant number” of people will be shortly given the green light for a booster.

He said the Government has received virus modelling this afternoon and that cases are rising “rapidly”.

“We received new modelling just in the last few hours which suggests that cases, hospitalisations and ICU will continue to rise in the coming weeks,” he said.

He said that evidence for boosters is “incredibly strong” and that he is waiting advice from Niac this evening.

He said it is “positive” that it would be a “significant” additional number to those people who will be able to get a booster.

“The indications are that it is positive in terms of adding a significant number to those who would be availing of boosters,” he said.

Mr Donnelly said that it is “all hands on deck” in rolling out of the booster shots.

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