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increasing concern Hospitals fear surge in patients as easing of restrictions to be discussed today

The Department of Health yesterday reported a dramatic rise in the number of people being treated in hospital for Covid, a rise of 53 to 459

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Nphet Chair Professor Philip Nolan

Nphet Chair Professor Philip Nolan

Nphet Chair Professor Philip Nolan

Hospitals are bracing for a spike in people being hospitalised with Covid-19 as the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) meets today to discuss the easing of restrictions.

The increasing concern at the numbers of hospitalisations comes as the Cabinet is set to decide tomorrow on whether to proceed with the lifting of Covid curbs this ­Friday.

The Department of Health yesterday reported a dramatic rise in the number of people being treated in hospital for Covid, a rise of 53 to 459.

The Sunday World understands that once again there are fears the health service will be overwhelmed by an upsurge in the pandemic, compounded by other winter ailments such as flu.

One well-placed health service source described the news of an extra 53 hospitalisations as “a jolt”.

The official said increased hospitalisations were a function of increased case numbers dating back a fortnight. The latest upsurge in cases relates to October 6.

“So, there will be no surprise if numbers going to hospital continue to increase over the coming week. The timing is far from ideal,” the official said.

Nphet is due to meet today to deliver its advice and, depending on timing, there may be a meeting of the Cabinet Covid subcommittee and/or consideration by the three leaders of the Coalition. The entire Cabinet is set to sign off on a final decision tomorrow.

There are tensions between the medical experts of Nphet and the Government over the extent and timing of easing Covid restrictions on Friday.

Some ministers were concerned at statements by experts Philip Nolan and Ronan Glynn about the need for people to stay at home, because these comments clashed with current advice from Government.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has again signalled the Government is unlikely to strengthen Covid-19 restrictions when it makes its decision tomorrow.

Mr Martin insisted that the worst outcome would be “a pause” on the relaxation of restrictions, but there could even be some relaxation justified by intensified public health measures.

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“There is no political appetite for strengthening restrictions or going backwards. All politicians understand the public would not tolerate this. The question is whether there will be a total pause – or whether there will be a further easing of restrictions which falls short of what was planned,” a source told the Irish Independent last night.

Stepped-up health measures will likely include continuing to use the Covid vaccination certificate for admission to pubs, restaurants and other public places. There will also be a publicity campaign to get the 370,000 people either not vaccinated – or just with one jab – to join the 90pc of people fully vaccinated.

A renewed campaign to get people re-engaged with basic precautions such as hand-cleaning, mask-wearing, and social distancing is also very likely.

There will also be efforts to step up the distribution of ­vaccine booster doses.

But any move to pause or limit the easing of restrictions on Friday will cause uproar in the entertainment and catering sectors. Nightclubs and music venues have been under major lockdown since March of last year and publicans’ organisations yesterday said there was no reason why restrictions on pubs could not be further relaxed this week.

Provincial publicans in the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland combined with the Dublin publicans’ organisation, the Licensed Vintners Association, to urge a return to bar-counter service and the ending of early closing. They said 349 pubs had closed nationwide due to the pandemic despite government supports.

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