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rising cases Ireland ‘will not panic’ over surging Covid-19 numbers says Micheál Martin

Mr maintained those who have not been vaccinated should do so

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Taoiseach Micheál Martin

Taoiseach Micheál Martin

Taoiseach Micheál Martin

TAOISEACH Micheál Martin has warned Ireland will not panic over surging Covid-19 case numbers but admitted additional protection measures may now be required in the fight against the virus.

Mr Martin, speaking in Cork, refused to speculate on the specific measures to be discussed by the Government next week following Nphet consultations but did underline the potential importance going forward of vaccine booster shots and vaccination certificates.

He refused to be drawn on whether the phased return to the workplace may be paused until the case surge ebbs.

"We got presented with data this week which was different to the previous week and showed a different trend," he said.

"It is a cause for concern and Government will consider that. We will take on board the advice from public health (experts) before making a decision in relation to continuing on with the lifting of restrictions or any other measures we may have to take in light of that new information in respect of the trajectory of the disease."

The Government had planned on lifting remaining Covid-19 control measures by October 22.

"I would agree with (HSE boss) Paul Reid - it is not a question of pushing the panic button.

"We do have to give an assessment. As I said yesterday vaccination is important and vaccines are working against severe illness and against admissions to hospital and intensive care units.

"We are asking people to consider that if you are not vaccinated, get vaccinated."

He said people in NIAC are considering expanding the booster against Covid-19 “which is important in the overall battle against the virus."

"Vaccines have been shown to work. It (a booster) is already underway in relation to the over 80s and over 65s in care facilities and (the medically vulnerable).

"That is a very important part of this.

"We are going to have to assess the situation in terms of the overall number of cases.

"There is not a whole lot left to reopen - behaviour is now a factor. I think we will be looking at vaccination certs for example.

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"The Covid-19 vaccination certs have been used so far for access to (indoor) hospitality."

He said there is a variety of options they can now look at, but he wouldn’t speculate on what might happen.

"It is better we make a comprehensive decision on foot of the advice we get,” he said.

"People have been extraordinary - the vaccination rate in Ireland is extremely high.

"People are working very hard in relation to this. People have been patient and understand this is a pandemic and there will continue to be twists and turns in relation to the disease.

"But we are in a much different position now thanks to vaccination."

"It has transformed the environment. People have been patient. The economy has come bouncing back in so many sectors and people liked the phased re-opening process since springtime in different sectors.

"Thousands of people have come back to work and that is the good side of the story so far. The bulk of the people have stayed with us."

His comments came as concern mounted over surging numbers of Covid-19 cases despite Ireland's high vaccination rate.

Thursday saw 1,627 new cases recorded, with 415 people being treated in hospital and 70 of those in intensive care units.

There was also a high number of patients on hospital trolleys.

Mr Martin said vaccine booster shots will be important over future months.

"NIAC will give us advice about the booster shot. I was speaking to the President of the EU Commission (Ursula von der Leyen) - the EU Medicines Agency has OK'd the booster for over 18s after six months of the second dose being administered.

"I think boosters will be important - there is no doubt about that.

"As international evidence comes in respect of timelines over the waning of immunity."

He said the vaccines are still very strong.

"I think it is 17 times (better chance) of avoiding illness. It is a no-brainer really in terms of ones own health and the health of others," he said.

Mr Martin said the Government was already rolling out booster jabs for the over 80s, for over 65s in residential homes and for the immune-suppressed.

"Over time, we can see that expanding into over 70 years and over 60 years."

The Taoiseach said it was clear the situation had changed in terms of the trend in case numbers.

"The situation has changed in relation to the disease. Of that there is no doubt and we have to take that on board in terms of the decisions we take next week."

Mr Martin said he did not see any threat to Ireland's strong economic recovery from the pandemic.

"The Government position is as announced in September that there will be a phased return to the office - that is the Government position and it has not changed.

"That said, many companies informed us that it would indeed be a very phased return. Companies have taken their own decisions in that regard and have not all come back at once - they have phased it back and blended it.

"I don't believe that is a particular contributor here to the worsening of figures. I think it is a wider issue of congregation more generally - social gatherings and so on. There is also a seasonality factor here in terms of climate.

"The public health people are also saying that our proximity to Britain and Northern Ireland is a factor in terms of the prevalence of the disease and also the fact that (the) Delta (variant) hit here harder and sooner than other EU countries and that had our levels at a higher rate even as the vaccination rate gathered pace."

The Taoiseach said he did not agree with the statement of Professor Philip Nolan, a member of Nphet, who said that leaving home with Covid-19 or flu-like symptoms should become as socially unacceptable as drink-driving.

"I wouldn't agree with that approach," Mr Martin said.

"I think I understand his motivation in terms of trying to get people to really adhere to the guidelines and guidance received. To be fair, he has given really great public service commitments throughout Covid-19 and that has to be acknowledged.

"But, again, I don't think it is a parallel to drink driving. I think it is a different situation altogether.”

Most people have not been reckless during Covid-19, he said, adding most people want to adhere to the guidance and are doing their very best to adhere to the guidance.

"We have a voluntary situation in respect of vaccination. That is very interesting from a psychological and behavioural point of view.

"Some 92pc of over 18 year olds are fully vaccinated - the science and public debate occurred and people took their own decisions," he said.

Prof Nolan had acknowledged that data on the virus was going in the wrong direction but stressed that it was “not escalating out of control”.

“Unvaccinated people are catching the disease, they are getting severe outcomes and spreading the disease, but the disease is also spreading subtly through the vaccinated population."

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