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'step by step' Next fortnight critical in Covid surge threatening Christmas says Micheal Martin

The Taoiseach refused to be drawn on controls and restrictions ahead of Christmas

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Taoiseach Micheal Martin (PA)

Taoiseach Micheal Martin (PA)

Taoiseach Micheal Martin (PA)

TAOISEACH Micheal Martin warned that the next fortnight will be critical for Ireland to control the worrying Covid-19 case surge that has threatened the Christmas season.

Mr Martin stressed that while further control measures are being considered by the Government, he refused to be drawn on issues such as curfews, travel restrictions or possible curbs on socialising over Christmas.

Austria will impose severe lockdown measures from Monday to control the latest Covid-19 surge with several other EU states considering similar measures.

However, Mr Martin said Ireland was in a different position thanks to high vaccination levels.

The Taoiseach was speaking as he launched the €10 million Cork Airport runway refurbishment programme which was delivered on time and on budget over a remarkable 10 week work window.

The Taoiseach urged everyone to play their part in defeating the latest surge in virus case numbers.

"I did not use that word (restrictions) and I think the word curfew has a different and wider application," Mr Martin said.

"We have approached it differently from the outset.

"This isn't about any one time of the year (Christmas) - we have to deal with waves as they come and as they emerge.

"We have to look at the overall picture and the overall objectives for managing a pandemic - mortality, keeping deaths down, reducing severe illness, preventing long-term impacts such as long Covid and what that means and reducing case numbers.

"That is the objective. If there is a wave in January or February, equally we have to respond. That is the overall framework here - we have to take it step by step.

"We will monitor this and we will take the appropriate measures. Public health is the ultimate metric by which we take decisions - to protect peoples lives and to protect public health. That is the key in terms of our decision making.

"We are very concerned at the high (virus case) numbers. But we are in a different position because of how highly vaccinated we are as a country. That does give us a protection against severe illness.

"I would urge people who are still not vaccinated to get vaccinated.

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"It prevents severe illness and it prevents admission to ICU. The number of unvaccinated people are disproportionately represented in the hospitals and ICUs.

"I would also say to those who get a call to get the booster (jab), take it when you are offered it. Because it not only restores the immunity that has waned but it gives additional protection."

He also urged the hospitality sector to be vigilant with the enforcement of all Covid-19 protocols including checking Covid-19 certs.

"The Government is endeavouring to be fair in terms of how we approach this. We have facilitated (industry) - we are working with people."

He urged people planning social events in the run-up to Christmas to review such plans.

"I am not going to go specifically on any one sector. There is a framework in place. But it is very important that people reassess events and so forth - to reduce congregations and socialisation where possible.

"Already we are beginning to hear of decisions taken by people across the board - people are reducing many instances of activities and socialisations. That is important."

The Taoiseach also said the Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan's concerns about antigen testing are focused purely on their misuse rather than their benefits.

"In respect of the CMO perspective on antigen tests, he supports wider deployment of antigen testing in targeted areas. We should acknowledge that the use of antigen testing has significantly expanded over the last couple of months particularly in respect of close contacts.

"It is being used in the serial testing of meat plants, in nursing homes, in third level colleges.

"But what the CMO's main concern is that there needs to be very clear communication on the proper use of antigen tests and the use of them if you don't have symptoms. If you are symptomatic, go and get a PCR test. There is a twin prong approach here.

"He believes there is a role for antigen testing - but he has concerns that surveys have indicated a very high number of people are using antigen tests at the wrong time - when they are symptomatic. His point is that we have to turn that around."

Mr Martin also said he did not believe international travel was a factor in the surge.

"International travel is not the key issue here. I think the key issue is that there has been waning immunity in respect of the existing vaccines. That is why the booster is so important and will help us as we move forward over the next four to five weeks and more and more people get the booster.

"There has to be a balanced approach to this. The objective is to keep people safe. But, given where we are with the overall vaccination programme, to keep society open and people in employment and in their jobs.

"The important point is that working together right throughout the pandemic has helped us get through difficult phases of it.

"We are now going through another difficult and challenging phase of this pandemic and this latest Covid-19 surge.

"There are a number of approaches we are taking - the health services, HSE are engaging with hospitals across the country to provide mitigating measures.

"There is a strong update now in terms of the private sector capacity - up to 3,000 bed days per week.

"So across the board every effort is being made to alleviate the pressure on our health service because of this fourth wave and the impact it is having.

"Parallel with that the booster campaign is being rolled out and over 500,000 people by will have received the booster vaccine.

"Thirdly, we do get a sense that people are very aware now and are apprised of the situation in terms of behaviour. Collectively, if we keep socialisation down we can limit the spread of this virus.

"We have just taken measures this week - we will monitor those and we will continue to work with the key agencies in terms of the HSE, NPHET etc."

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