Ireland’s tough Covid-19 restrictions could remain in place for the first half of the year, the Taoiseach has said.
Micheal Martin said the number of new daily cases of Covid-19 needs to fall into the hundreds, and possibly as low as 100-200, before restrictions can be relaxed.
He added he is particularly concerned about the new UK variant of the virus.
The Fianna Fail leader said the Government needs to adopt a “cautious and conservative” approach to managing the disease, warning the restrictions will be more prolonged than any to date.
We will be witnessing far more prolonged restrictions than we have to dateMicheal Martin
He told RTE Radio 1 on Saturday: “Case numbers have to be well below, have to be in the hundreds, if not 100-200. That low.
“I’m thinking of the variant. That’s what my concern is. It will become the dominant variant here. It is at 62% of all cases. It transmits more easily.
“If we have mass mobilisation and mass socialisation, it will spread again.
“I think with the vaccines coming, there’s an argument to be cautious and conservative now for the first half of this year, until we roll out the vaccines.
“We will be witnessing far more prolonged restrictions than we have to date.
“I’m the Taoiseach, but I have to consult with my colleagues and ministers, and we’ll consult with the opposition as well, but that is my sense of it until we get control.”
He added the restrictions will be reviewed every four weeks.
The Government’s Cabinet sub-committee on Covid-19 is due to meet on Monday to discuss the extension of the current restrictions.
A final decision will be made on Tuesday following a Cabinet meeting.
The Taoiseach told RTE’s Brendan O’Connor he is “very worried” about the UK variant, and he had called UK Prime Minster Boris Johnson to discuss the latest research which suggests it may be more deadly than the original virus.
Mr Johnson revealed on Friday that the new variant could increase the mortality rate in some groups by between 30% and 40%.
It was already known that the new variant is up to 70% more transmissible than the original.
Statement from the National Public Health Emergency Team— Department of Health (@roinnslainte) January 22, 2021
The Health Protection Surveillance Centre @hpscireland has today been notified of 52 additional deaths related to COVID-19.
The Irish premier said Mr Johnson is “worried”.
Mr Martin said: “I just asked him, what’s his sense of it in terms of the research. He said: ‘They are going to do more research on that.’
“He’s worried about the variant.
“‘There’s something going on out there,’ is what a lay person would say.”
A further 77 deaths and 1,910 new cases of Covid-19 were confirmed on Saturday by the Department of Health.
76 of these deaths occurred in January, one happened last month.
The median age of those who died was 84 years and the age range is 43-98 years.
Of the new cases, 710 were in Dublin, 150 in Cork, 103 in Meath, 102 in Limerick, 86 in Louth, and the remaining 759 cases are spread across the remain counties.
As of 2pm on Saturday, 1,892 people with coronavirus are in hospital – including 217 people in ICU.
There were 59 additional hospital admissions in the past 24 hours.
Ireland’s 14-day incidence rate per 100,000 population is now 955.
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said Ireland was starting to flatten the curve thanks to people adhering to public health measures.
“Through the solidarity shown by families and communities across the country in recent weeks, we are beginning to flatten the curve of Covid-19 infection,” he said.
“Each individual effort to follow the public health advice is making an impact, but we can only continue this positive trend and drive down incidence in the community by continuing to stay at home and avoid meeting or mixing with others in our social circle, including for any close family gatherings, such as birthdays or funerals, as these can be ‘super-spreader’ events.”
He urged people to all behave as though they are infectious and minimise close contacts with others given it is possible to have the virus without displaying symptoms.
Dr Holohan stressed that if you do have symptoms it was important to self-isolate immediately.
“If you suspect that you might be ill, isolate away from others in your household, let your close contacts know and come forward for testing as soon as possible,” he added.