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Sharp drop in infections likely to spark call for easing of rules as Government comes under pressure

Deputy chief medical officer Ronan Glynn warned yesterday more time is needed to get a firmer grip on infection trends. Photo: Gareth Chaney

Deputy chief medical officer Ronan Glynn warned yesterday more time is needed to get a firmer grip on infection trends. Photo: Gareth Chaney

Eilish O'Regan

THE Government appears set to come under pressure to ease Covid-19 restrictions on businesses and entertainment venues after a drop of more than 9,000 in daily Omicron cases in less than a week.

Optimistic signals that the current wave may be peaking emerged yesterday as daily cases fell to 17,065, down from last Saturday's pandemic high of 26,122.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) meets next Thursday and will consider the 8pm closure order for hospitality and indoor entertainment.

However, deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn warned yesterday that more time is needed to get a firmer grip on infection trends.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he hopes progress can be made and paid tribute to performers who have staged events earlier in the day.

"The restrictions are very severe on the sector - there is no point in saying anything else," he said.

Hospitalisations of patients with Covid-19, a key metric, remained relatively steady yesterday, although there was an increase of 12 compared with Thursday.

However, the number of these in intensive care fell to 83, a drop of nine in a day.

A renewed effort is under way to get the remaining 700,000 eligible for a Covid-19 booster vaccine to come forward in advance of any easing of restrictions.

Although a proportion of these will have to wait three months because they have had an infection, the majority can secure the jab this weekend or next week amid evidence that people who are boosted have the best protection against getting sick from Omicron.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan yesterday said: "We have seen exceptional levels of uptake of the Covid-19 vaccine in Ireland. To date, 59pc of the adult population have availed of a booster.

"We know that those people who have been boosted are less susceptible to infection and, if infected, are less infectious to others, compared with those who have not been boosted.

"It is important that those who have not yet availed of a booster vaccine now do so."

It comes as thousands of fully boosted people without symptoms who are close contacts of a confirmed case will return to workplaces this weekend and next week following a change in the rules surrounding restriction of movements.

They are required to take antigen tests over seven days, which they will get from the HSE, but they are also being told to wear, for 10 days, higher grade masks - medical or respirator masks.

Asked if employers should provide employees with the higher-grade masks, a spokesperson for the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) said: "The recent public health advice for close contacts is applicable to all of the general population.

"It is therefore important that personal responsibility continues to be exercised. The recent public health advice does not require every workplace to provide masks."

People under 40 who test positive for Covid-19 with an antigen test no longer have to get a PCR test.

The HSE portal allowing people to register as positive after an antigen test opened yesterday, and more than 2,500 had logged their results by the afternoon.

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