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Omicron now makes up 14pc of Irish cases as 3,887 new Covid-19 infections announced

Chief medical officer and senior Nphet members are to brief the three Coalition party leaders this eveningBriefing will come as a global health leader has warned a drive in transmission of the Omicron variant will ‘fill up the hospitals and the ICUs’

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Hugh O'Connell, Cate McCurry and John Downing

Dr Tony Holohan says the latest Covid-19 figures suggest Omicron now accounts for about 14pc of Ireland’s cases.

It comes as another 3,887 cases of Covid were confirmed, with 493 people in hospital, of whom 109 are in ICU.

“In line with the experience of many other countries, we can expect this proportion to rise rapidly over the coming days,” he said.

The chief medical officer and senior Nphet members are to brief the three Coalition party leaders this evening on the latest developments with the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

Ahead of Nphet's meeting this Thursday, Dr Holohan is to brief the Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan amid fears among some Coalition figures that more restrictions are likely to be recommended by public health officials later this week.

The briefing by Nphet will come as a global health leader has warned a drive in transmission of the Omicron variant will "fill up the hospitals and the ICUs".

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Dr Mike Ryan, executive director of World Health Organisation (WHO) health emergencies programme, said even if Omicron turns out to be a milder disease, the rising number of cases will lead to more people in hospital.

Dr Ryan told an Irish Aid webinar, hosted by the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA), that he is concerned about unvaccinated people in every country.

Ireland has had 18 confirmed cases associated with the variant.

Speaking at the briefing, Dr Ryan said: "There's no doubt that the rising number and the force of infection will generate more hospitalisations in the coming weeks, just the sheer weight of numbers will will generate that.

"What I'm most concerned about right now today, is the fact that there are unvaccinated people in every country, who are at high risk.

"People have moved away from applying even the most basic measures to protect themselves and others, be it government policy or individual behaviour, in terms of mask wearing, avoiding crowded places, in terms of handwashing, in terms of ventilated spaces, all of those issues.

"We are likely to drive transmission and have huge numbers of cases and even if Omicron turns out to be a milder disease, if we generate millions and millions and millions of cases, we will fill the hospitals up, we will fill the ICUs up.

"So we need to refocus on public health and social measures, vaccinate the unvaccinated."

He urged hospitals to get ready now, and assess its workforce, clinical management and triage.

"Look at its oxygen and other supplies. Look at PPE for its health workers," he added.

"Because whatever happens, a wave of Omicron, whether it's less virulent or not, will generate pressure in the health system."

He also said that specific groups in the population need to get the booster jab, particularly older people or those with underlying conditions who may have lost some protection.

He added: "Everything in this response so far has been a little bit about people looking for silver bullets, looking for unicorns, the perfect answers. They don't exist.

"What has worked through this pandemic is layered, risk-oriented, evidence-based, consistent advice to people, support the communities - that's the only way out of this.

"We can't vaccinate our way out of this. We can lockdown our way out of this."

Colm Brophy, Minister for Overseas Development Aid and Diaspora, said that some time was lost in the global response to Covid "due to populist government responses".

He said that responding to a pandemic has to be "inclusive and multilateral".

"We unfortunately, I think in the world through various governments, which you could maybe have historically relied on the past, which treated the the start to Covid in a very populist way in terms of response," the Fine Gael TD Added.

"We lost a lot of time and a lot of ground I think as an international community in terms of how we would respond to Covid.

"What we need now is to put in place that structure that looks at all of the regulations, how you prevent pandemic, as well as how you treat a pandemic."

Dr Ryan also praised Ireland's vaccination programme.

He said that while there have been criticisms of its rollout, there remains a "very high level of trust" in the government.

"There's an there's an open debate, there's open media, there's questioning," he added.

"But ultimately, at its core, I believe people in Ireland believe the government is trying to help.

"They might not like the way it's trying to help them, but it's trying to help them.

"That is not a relationship that all governments have with their population.

"When you're in areas of extreme poverty and urban degradation, and exploitation and migration, and all of that put together and then you come in to populations who've had no health, no assistance, no development, no equity for decades and decades.

"And you say 'here we are, we're come to save you all now'.

"It's not just about health literacy. It's about a much deeper issue, which is who you trust."

He also said that people who have genuine hesitancy to get vaccinated should not criticised.

"People can be vaccine-hesitant for any number of reasons.

"Our job in the public sector is to engage with those people and engage with them with influencers and communicators who they trust," Dr Ryan added.

"Governments need to learn to branch out and open up and involve civil society, involve non-governmental organisations in that process of trust building."

Meanwhile, the Taoiseach has pledged that resources will not be a problem in increasing the speed of the Covid-19 booster vaccine rollout.

Mr Martin was responding to Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald who accused the Government of a clear lapse in planning for the booster rollout since it was well-known it would be necessary. She said there were now long queues at vaccination centres, cases of people being turned away, and considerable confusion with the booking system.

“The problem is that we have a Government that moves too slowly and is always playing catch-up,” the Sinn Féin leader said.

Ms McDonald said she knew of one person, now living outside the State, who had been given nine vaccination appointments and was then recorded as a “no-show” for each of these. She said this was an example of rampant duplication which citizens could not notify the HSE about to prevent it.

The Sinn Féin leader said there were 500 fewer vaccinators operating compared with this past summer and the system was now operating at two thirds of potential capacity. She twice asked the Taoiseach to specify how many new vaccinators would be recruited and when they would be operating.

The Taoiseach replied that the booster campaign opened on October 4 and Ireland was by now placed fourth in numbers boosted in Europe, with some 1.25 million people receiving the third injection. Mr Martin said the provision of recruitment numbers and a timeframe was “complicated” and he did not give a specific answer.

The Taoiseach insisted that all available resources will be committed to support GPs and pharmacists while also hiring more vaccinators to operate extended hours at the HSE centres.

“We’re going to utilise all our resources to the maximum,” he said.

Mr Martin told Social Democrat leader, Róisín Shortall, that there were plans to expand the army’s role and to hire extra vaccinators from among nurses and others who had the competence to vaccinate. Ms Shortall suggested trainee pharmacists and doctors could also be deployed along with others who could be quickly trained to vaccinate.

“All are welcome and we want people to join in the national vaccination campaign,” the Taoiseach said.

As tonight’s Covid cases were issued, Dr Holohan said: “The goal now is to limit the spread of Covid-19 through our tried and tested preventive measures. These measures can protect us and our families and will allow time for the booster vaccination programme to take effect.

“This means that as we move closer to Christmas, we must try to reduce the number of people we meet, avoid crowds and work from home unless it is essential to attend in person.

“I encourage anyone eligible for a booster vaccination to take that opportunity. Boosters are proven to be effective in restoring protection against all variants of Covid-19.”

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