A professor of immunology at Maynooth University said it appears the Omicron wave has peaked, but it’s “difficult to be completely sure”.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Prof Paul Moynagh said testing has recently been “really overcrowded” and the positivity rate has been very high, but looking at the numbers over the past few days it “certainly seems that they have peaked” and are now decreasing.
“If you look at these waves they tend to be symmetrical, we don’t really know why,” he said.
“So with Omicron the slope was very, very steep, so we would probably expect the decline to be something similar and reflect that steep slope.”
Asked if now was the time to start phasing out restrictions, Prof Moynagh said he thought it was “probably the case”.
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As of 8am, there were 1,006 Covid-19 patients in Irish hospitals, an increase of 41 from the same time yesterday.
Among them, 97 patients were in intensive care units with the virus, nine more than yesterday.
Yesterday the Department of Health confirmed 10,753 PCR-positive Covid-19 cases, while 4,208 positive antigen tests were also recorded through the HSE portal.
Professor Moynagh said one of the main characteristics of Omicron is its transmissibility, adding that it is difficult to control transmission even with existing restrictions.
“So the restrictions have been, I think, relatively ineffective,” he said.
“Some of the good things are that it’s a milder variant, compared to some of the other variants, and also the fact that it doesn’t result in anything like the rate of hospitalizations and intensive care. [admissions] previous waves.”
He said this was due to the “wall of immunity” built up by vaccination, as well as the high number of cases in recent weeks.
Professor Moynagh said that due to the lag between infections and hospitalizations and serious illnesses, it “probably would make sense” to let the restrictions ease for about a week, so they could see the impact of these peak levels.
“But from this point on, I think we have to start looking at – at the very least – a gradual lifting of restrictions,” he said.
“Many would accept that throughout our lives we are all going to encounter this virus. Many of the restrictions – at best what they will do is delay this exposure to the virus.
“So the focus will now shift from focusing on delivery to a greater focus on results.”
In Northern Ireland, the Department of Health reported four more deaths and 3,295 other confirmed cases of Covid-19 today.
This morning, there were 394 hospitalized Covid-positive patients, including 28 in intensive care.
Covid a “cunning” and difficult to manage virus, says WHO envoy
The World Health Organization’s special envoy on Covid-19 announced further easing restrictions in Ireland, particularly in relation to the hospitality industry, is “all about balancing risk”, adding that key indicators are whether hospitals and intensive care units have bed capacity.
Dr David Nabarro described Ireland’s introduction of a seven-day isolation period, up from ten, as “a calculated risk”, but that “balance” is the key word.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne, he also said it was not yet entirely clear whether the Omicron variant was in the early stages of being likened to a cold.
He said: “Our anticipation is that this novel coronavirus, which we first encountered in early 2020, will over time become a perfectly calm virus that does not cause serious illness. This is where we believe this virus is finally heading but it’s not there yet and that’s why we’re telling everyone it’s going to be really tough over the next few weeks.”
Dr Nabarro warned that while exiting the pandemic is an ideal scenario, nations need to be prepared for another surge.
“My general point to everyone is to hope for the best, but expect all sorts of difficult difficulties.
“That means having plans for some degree of movement restrictions, probably local, if we get a bad push and suddenly the health services are overwhelmed and people start to perish. You have to make your plans based on that. what we’ve learned about this virus and it’s really tricky and difficult to deal with.”
RAI calls for return of normal trading hours
The CEO of the Restaurants Association of Ireland has called for a return to normal trading hours for the hospitality industry later this week.
Adrian Cummins said he would like the lifting of the measures to take effect once the National Public Health Emergency Team meets on Thursday, allowing the industry to fully reopen next week.
He said the 8 p.m. closing time was “effectively a lockdown for hospitality”.
Mr Cummins said a gradual return of the whole economy was needed, including the night economy.
He also called for an extension of the employment wage subsidy program [EWSS] at full price until the end of March. At present, the EWSS is expected to be reduced next month.