Wednesday, November 24, 2021

The Government will not impose any further restrictions this week as health officials and Cabinet Ministers will wait until at least the end of next week before deciding if new measures are needed.

As reported in The Irish Times, health officials and the Government saw “tentative” signs that the rising number of Covid-19 cases and hospitalisations are beginning to decrease.

However, Táiniste Leo Varadkar said it was too early to be certain.

The number of patients in hospital with Covid-19 has fallen by 76 within 48 hours.

There are now 609 patients with Covid-19 in hospital, which is down 29 from Tuesday. The latest figures also show there are 130 patients in intensive care with the virus.

Under pressure

On Wednesday morning, HSE’s lead on test and trace, Damien McCallion acknowledged that the service is under pressure, but said that every step had been taken to identify measures that could help such as engaging the private sector and the defence forces.

“We’re clearly in a wave at the moment” he told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.

Mr McCallion pointed out that over the last “six to seven weeks” over one million PCR tests had been carried out.

The pressure on the testing system was coming from clinical referrals and close contacts, Mr McCallion explained.

“We’re still getting those same day, next day – they are the first priority for testing, it is the swabbing where the pressure is. Laboratories are performing well, our contact tracing is under pressure but performing well, it’s the access point where the challenge exists.”

Availability of tests varied around the country, he said. The current wave of the virus was putting pressure on all parts of the health system, “not just in testing, but in ICU, hospitals, general practices and so on. That’s clearly creating challenges for us at the moment”.

“In the last seven days we’ve done over 200,000 PCR lab tests – to give it in context, in the last six to seven weeks nearly one million people have had PCR tests, when you think of our population those are huge numbers.”

Every step that can be taken has been taken, he added.

“We’ve been continuing to recruit right through this, that has never stopped.

“We have identified measures with the private sector that have helped to bolster capacity,” Mr McCallion added.

“But ultimately, when you’re in a wave like we’re in at the moment, where the demand is so significant right across the health care system, there will always be constraints on resources whether that’s ICU, general practice, testing – so at the moment we’re hitting levels that none of us every thought we’d hit – 100,000 was seen as the gold standard, we’re doing 200,000 a week.”

When asked about antigen testing in schools, Mr McCallion said that no one test in any scenario was a silver bullet and that a suite of measures was required.

Antigen testing

This comes as the Government faces increasing pressure over the planned subsidised antigen test programme.

Plans for State subsidised antigen testing were delayed this week. It is understood that Government officials raised concerns that the subsidised price for pharmacies, planned to be in the region of €3-€4 per test, was about the same price supermarket discounters were already selling them for.

The plan for antigen testing may not be approved by Government until next week, as the Department of Enterprise is working with retailers on mechanism for subsidising the tests.

Mr Varadkar told reporters it appeared the positivity rate of Covid-19 tests was “starting to level off”, but added that it was too soon to be certain.

“We will, as a Government, seek to avoid imposing extreme restrictions if we can,” he said.

According to The Irish Times, a source close to the discussions has said Government Ministers believe the approach to the fourth wave should not be the same as earlier waves.

The State recorded a further 3,666 new cases of Covid-19 on Tuesday.

– Additional reporting by Vivienne Clarke

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