difficult month | 

Leo Varadkar warns Omicron cases expected to peak in 'the next week or so'

'We will overcome the Omicron wave and hopefully more quickly than prior waves'

Leo Varadkar (Brian Lawless/PA)

Neil Fetherstonhaugh

Omicron cases are expected to peak “in the next week or so”, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has warned, with the number of cases expected to be very high.

The continuing surge in cases will mean January will be a "difficult" month, the Fine Gael leader added, with an increase in the patient numbers in hospital and ICU.

“But this won’t be as high as it was last winter because of immunity that has built up due to the vaccine programme and prior infection,” he told the Irish Times.

He added: "We will overcome the Omicron wave and hopefully more quickly than prior waves.

“Increased vaccination, increased natural immunity, the new anti-viral oral medicines and the arrival of spring will ensure that. January will be a difficult month with a lot of pressure on hospitals and absence from work. It will be a challenge to manage it well.”

Yesterday, HSE boss Paul Reid said the Omicron variant was "running rife in our communities" and warned of the limits of Covid-19 testing as a measure to control or measure transmission.

Speaking on RTE's Morning Ireland, he said: "If you think that you have Covid, it's most likely that you have it".

Mr Reid said Ireland has not yet reached a peak in the Omicron wave as the variant spreads rapidly - with a positivity rate of nearly 50 per cent.

The HSE’s Test and trace chief Damien McCallion also said that if you have symptoms the likelihood is that you have Covid-19.

With the figures for those seeking Covid-19 tests expected to run in excess of 300,000 this week, Mr McCallion warned that the testing system would have a limited role now in suppressing Covid-19 due to the extreme hold the virus had on the community.

A further 9,006 cases were confirmed yesterday with a 43pc positivity rate, as the Omicron surge gains momentum across the country.

“We’re operating at very close to peak now,” he told the Irish Independent, as two more test centres prepare to come on stream, creating a total of nearly 50 across the State.

“But with a positivity rate of one in two, we’re at the ceiling of the role it can play [in controlling spread through warning close contacts].”

“Demand for testing is clearly huge at the moment. It peaked in the middle of Christmas week, but there is continued excess demand and slots are filling up very quickly,” he said.

“We’ve brought in a huge number of partners to help, and we have increased mobile testing centres. But with positivity rates of close to 50pc, anyone with symptoms should realise they are likely to have it and should be isolating.”

He said PCR testing was also taking place in acute hospitals, and was now running at an unprecedented level of 6,000 a week.

“We will be close to 300,000 tests this week, and the demand is in excess of that.

“If you are symptomatic, you need to restrict your movements until you are symptom-free for 48 hours.

“Other people need to minimise contacts, exposure and risk.

“My sense is that people have respected that over Christmas and have been careful, but the virus and disease is widespread nonetheless.”

He said the disease was “rife” and the impact on hospitals would not be evident “for a few weeks yet”.

“We’ll have to see how it plays out in relation to our hospitals.

Mr McCallion said he was optimistic, but people needed to continue to heed public health advice, particularly around looming New Year’s Eve celebrations.

A government spokesman said the coronavirus situation was being kept under review.

Meanwhile, people aged 30 to 39 can register for their booster dose from today.

Those aged 16 to 29 who received the Janssen vaccine are also now eligible for the booster.

Appointments can be booked online and will be available from pharmacists, GP clinics and at walk-in vaccination centres.

Individuals must only go for a booster jab if they received their second dose at least three months ago and have not had Covid-19 since.

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