The Government may delay removing the final Covid-19 restrictions following a sudden change in the behaviour of the virus that is causing alarm among senior health officials.
s 2,066 new cases were reported last night, senior figures from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) informed government officials of concerns over the rise in the number of tests carried out, the positivity rate and hospitalisations in recent days.
It is unclear whether the change in the trajectory of the virus is temporary or evidence of a more sustained step change, with officials to assess more data in the coming days.
The unexpected shift comes
as the country is due to remove remaining Covid restrictions tomorrow week, October 22. Nphet meets on Monday to assess the situation and make recommendations.
The HSE’s national lead on testing and tracing, Niamh O’Beirne, told the Irish Independent that the downward trend in the virus had reversed last Wednesday.
She said there had been a noticeable increase in the referral of older people for testing.
There are currently 408 Covid-19 patients in hospital, the highest since early March.
The latest developments could put the relaxation of most of the remaining public health restrictions in doubt.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the rising spread of the virus should act as an “alert” and he couldn’t guarantee that most restrictions would be lifted next week. He said the Covid numbers were a “matter of concern” and that the disease had “taken the wrong turn”.
He told a Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting last night that the Government was continuing to monitor the evolving situation.
Meanwhile, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told his parliamentary party that all indicators of the virus were heading in the wrong direction. He said the 300,000 people who were not vaccinated had a choice, but they must accept that those choices would affect other people.
The Fine Gael leader said the Government would discuss the rising Covid numbers and make a decision on the October 22 reopening date at next Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting.
Mr Varadkar did not rule out the possibility of extending vaccine passes for indoor hospitality through the winter months following a suggestion from senator Garret Ahearn.
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan is due to return from leave next week and is expected to chair the Nphet meeting on Monday.
Ms O’Beirne said the health service was doing about 17,000 tests a day at community sites across the country. Testing was reported to be “very busy” in Kerry, Waterford, and Cork.
Positivity rates are 10.5pc in community testing but some counties are higher, with Kerry reporting a positivity rate of 16.5pc, Waterford 16.5pc and Cavan 13.5pc.
Deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn and Nphet modelling chief Philip Nolan informed a briefing of the Covid Oversight Group yesterday they were concerned about the sudden change in Covid data.
They reported that there was no clearly detectable pattern at this stage, with case numbers rising among all age cohorts.
In a statement, Dr Glynn blamed the 300,000 people yet to be vaccinated and the 70,000 who still had had just one dose for helping to fuel the current spread.
He said: “The spread of disease in these 370,000 people is having a disproportionate impact on the profile of Covid-19 in our hospitals and intensive care units, with two out of every three people in intensive care not vaccinated.”
Ministers continued to state publicly yesterday that the plan was to ease restrictions from October 22, with Arts Minister Catherine Martin saying music venues needed to reopen to be viable.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly was forced into isolation yesterday after displaying mild symptoms of Covid-19, but he returned a negative test.