He said, “We are looking at a very challenging January” but the success of the vaccine roll-out combined with the booster programme and the new restrictions which were introduced this week will enable society to “get through this”.
Mr Martin said given the current case numbers, if not for vaccines the country would already be in another lockdown but he added there are no plans to introduce further restrictions at this point.
“I’m watching what we did during Delta and there was a period during the Delta when we thought we were in a bit of difficulty as the numbers crept up in ICU and hospitalisation,” he told Newstalk Breakfast.
“We asked people to work from home, we asked people to reduce the level of socialisation. We know from research that people did that themselves… they cancelled appointments and that did result in the stabilisation of the Delta figures.
“We were winning over Delta – along comes Omicron. So, what that demonstrates is that if we could reduce socialisation by 20-30pc, that’s the aim of public health officials, then we can manage this; combined with high momentum booster campaign which really is going very strongly now over the last week or so,” he added.
The Taoiseach said the booster campaign had its most successful day yesterday, with over 75,000 people receiving either a booster or third vaccine dose.
When asked if schools should have closed last week to limit the spread of the virus among children, Mr Martin said he could understand peoples’ concerns, but the public health advice clearly stated that it was safe to keep them open.
“We did discuss this with public health. They were clear that numbers were actually stabilising in schools over the last week or so. Also if you start now with the schools, what’s the rationale for reopening if you think there’s a problem.?
“The advice we’re receiving right now is there’s not a problem or evidence to suggest that we should,” he explained.
The Taoiseach said there was issue in schools during November, but public attributed this to high levels of community transmission during the Halloween break.
He argued that going to school is vital for the educational and social development of children and said he has serious concerns over the potential damage which the pandemic has caused to children in this regard.
“I worry about the impact of Covid-19 on children. Even children born at the beginning of the pandemic. Their level of socialisation in the first two years has been much less actually than children would ordinarily have.
“I think our childcare services, our early developmental services have to be really beefed up now in the next while to really deal with the impact of Covid on children and school is a critical weapon for us to protect children and to enable them to develop with their friends in the best way,” he added.
Speaking on the same programme, UCC Professor of Immunovirology Liam Fanning said it is time to begin a conversation about introducing vaccines mandates to reduce the number of unvaccinated people in hospital and avoid future restrictions and lockdowns.
The Taoiseach said Ireland has one of the highest vaccine uptakes in the EU, with just 6pc of people still unvaccinated. He argued that EU countries which have announced vaccine mandates will have difficulty enforcing them. He said he is not in favour of the idea and “on balance” the current approach working.
In relation to the Covid-19 wave which hit Ireland in the lead-up to and after Christmas last year, Mr Martin said “it does weigh on me”.
He argued that the country’s leaders did not know as much about the Alpha variant as they now do about Omicron and said when a new variant comes along it can “wreak havoc”.
“We’re learning from South Africa, but we’d like to see some more data in terms of the United Kingdom, Denmark, Norway in terms what does it actually do; in terms of converting case numbers into hospitalisation, severe illness and ICU.
“That is the context, and we cannot take the risk with the population. We cannot take that risk in terms of just letting it rip and hope for the best. That would not be the right thing to do,” he added.