Government braces for impact of Omicron strain over Christmas season


The government is bracing for the impact of the Omicron variant resulting in high levels of transmission and a record number of cases over the Christmas period.

The health ministry reported 7,411 new cases last night, and officials warned that the daily count is expected to rise significantly over the next week.

But high-level sources said indications from the UK that people infected with the new variant were much less likely to need hospital care were encouraging, but not yet conclusive.

It is likely that ministers and senior officials will meet in the middle of next week to determine whether additional measures, including tighter restrictions ahead of New Year’s celebrations, are needed to control the spread of the variant.

Contingency plans have been developed across government in recent days following high-level talks between officials and the political system this week.

A waiver for key non-healthcare workers from isolation requirements is likely to form a cornerstone of the plan, with coalition figures focusing on the continuity of public services amid expected high levels of infection.

Authorities are also examining ways to control the risk of infection from close contacts with dispensation, with an increased role likely for antigen testing.

Confirmed cases in hospital Confirmed cases in ICU

Officials have also been tasked with identifying triggers for the implementation of contingency plans, as the Coalition seeks to avoid a repeat of the third wave of damaging infection that has put massive strain on the healthcare system. and resulted in over 1,000 deaths during the first part of this year.

Huge wave

Although no meeting of the national public health emergency team is scheduled before early January, public health officials will consult with the government and the entire civil service during the holiday season.

High-level sources said the data available so far clearly shows the country is facing a huge wave of new infections, but it is unclear what trajectory the disease will take. With Christmas making data reporting difficult, it will likely take several days before a clear picture emerges.

The government’s view at the present time is that there is currently nothing in the data that would encourage further action. However, if there is a worse than expected deterioration in the days following Christmas, new public health advice for further measures will likely follow quickly.

As the number of new cases jumped on Thursday – although the number of hospitals and intensive care both fell – it is admitted that Omicron is already causing extremely high levels of transmission in the community, with test positivity rates greater than 20%. “It’s ripping apart,” a senior source said.

There is hope that vaccine resistance, evidence of more moderate results associated with Omicron and the recall campaign may lessen the impact – but there are fears that the size of the wave may threaten hospitals nonetheless.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said that with the rapidly spreading Omicron variant accounting for almost three-quarters of cases, the high daily total number of cases was “not unexpected” and a “rapid increase” in cases was expected.

Callback program

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has announced further acceleration of the booster vaccination program as the government steps up efforts to protect more people from the most contagious variant.

Mr Donnelly said boosters would be available for people in their 30s and those aged 16 to 29 who received the single-dose Janssen vaccine starting next Wednesday before the third doses were released. extended to all age groups from January 10.

Most children aged 5 to 11 will be offered a dose of the primary vaccine starting January 8, with the appointment portal opening December 28.

In the UK, an analysis by the Health Security Agency found that people infected with the Omicron variant are 50 to 70% less likely to be admitted to hospital compared to previous variants. The report follows similar findings in South Africa, Denmark and Scotland, all pointing to reduced severity.

The UK recorded nearly 120,000 new cases yesterday.

Looming pressure points here include the state’s Covid-19 testing service and general practitioner offices, which could soon find themselves “inundated”, sources have warned.


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