Country facing a January “challenge” – Taoiseach


The Taoiseach said Ireland was facing a very difficult January, but the situation needs to be seen with some perspective, and if it had been the same situation around the same time last year, there would be a total locking.

Micheál Martin said the Covid-19 vaccines have helped prevent serious illness and hospitalizations, while the “robust” recall campaign has a lot of momentum.

Speaking on Newstalk, Martin said the reduction in socialization from around 20% to 30%, following public health advice, and the continued momentum with the recall campaign could mean the situation from Omicron could be managed.

He also said that in his opinion the vaccination should be voluntary and that this system has worked very well in Ireland.

The Taoiseach said he accepts that the unvaccinated take up a disproportionate share of health services, especially in terms of critical care, but said overall the voluntary approach should continue.

While not much is yet known about the Omicron variant, he said, it simply cannot be allowed to cross the population.

“We can’t take the risk of just letting it tear itself apart and hoping for the best,” Martin said.

He said he could understand people’s concerns about schools, but the issue has been discussed with public health and the advice is that there is no evidence to close schools.

There have been a high number of cases in schools, but this has also coincided with a high level of community transmission, the Taoiseach added.

He said school is essential for children and the government’s overall goal is to maintain routine for children, adding that early development services will need to be strengthened in order to cope with the impact of Covid on children.


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Meanwhile, Sinn Féin called for “no reasonable expense to spare” to ensure schools can safely reopen in the new year, and called for the central purchase of HEPA filters for schools.

Education party spokesman Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said the Christmas period is a “crucial opportunity” to properly prepare for the safe reopening of schools.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, he said the return of HSE-led contact tracing was key to this, along with increased financial and public health support.

Mr Ó Laoghaire said exploiting access to the HEPA filtering system under the Small Jobs Grant is “slow and cumbersome” and puts school principals under immense pressure.

Keeping education open and functional is essential and the closure of school buildings has caused losses to children, he added.

Hepa filters are already present in many classrooms

Mr Ó Laoghaire said: “We have to go back to a situation where we have contact tracing … maybe not with precisely the same protocols that were there [before] but we need … the data “.

There must be easy access to public health advice and budgets set up to ensure heating costs do not bankrupt schools, he said.

He also said that the Covid-19 vaccination of elementary school children should take place in schools if possible.

It would be “logical, good and effective” because there is a lot of trust between parents and schools, he said.

The Department of Health reported another 4,799 cases of Covid-19 yesterday.

At 8 a.m., 443 people were being treated in hospital with the virus, 24 less than yesterday at the same time.

There were 104 patients with Covid-19 in the intensive care units.

In Northern Ireland, three other patients who had previously tested positive for Covid-19 have died.

2,096 other cases of the virus have also been reported by the Ministry of Health.

This morning, there were 268 Covid-positive patients hospitalized, including 34 in intensive care.

Respect for self-isolation “a problem”

Separately, a behavioral research professor at ESRI said respecting self-isolation has been an issue since the start of the pandemic and is not a new development.

Professor Pete Lunn said that since the early days of the pandemic there have been people who have been symptomatic but believe the symptoms are mild and they do not have Covid.

Research shows that these people follow public health advice and yet fail to isolate themselves, he said.

Professor Lunn said young people have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and should not be blamed for the spread of the disease.

Young adults have yet to receive the booster vaccine and that is one reason many are infected, not just because of their behavior, he added.

He said young people are more visible when socializing and that “the idea that young adults are the ones who take all the risks is not fair.”

Professor Lunn said young people are feeling substantial effects of the pandemic in terms of loneliness and the impact on mental health.

They “make the greatest sacrifices,” he said, as the inconvenience for young people impacts those who seek relationships, try to broaden their horizons and try to forge new friendships.


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