Further restrictions cannot be ruled out, says Coveney

Minister of Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said the government cannot rule out further restrictions and that “too many people” are not showing up for Covid-19 booster shots.

Coveney said the “last” the government wanted is “a new set of serious restrictions” in the run-up to Christmas, and he would closely monitor the situation over the next two weeks.

The minister said he suspected that the National Vaccination Advisory Committee (Niac) would “clearly advise” on booster shots for those under 50.

The cabinet announced several measures on Tuesday to contain the fourth wave of the virus, which is putting hospitals and the health service under great pressure.

People were advised to work from home; a midnight closing time is imposed on bars and nightclubs; and close contacts of a business in the same household should limit movements for five days. Covid-19 passes were also extended to cinemas and theaters.

Further restrictions

Coveney said the new restrictions, which will take effect from Thursday, are “deliberate measures” that the government believes needed to be taken amid pressures on the health system and projected increase in demand.

“This is about avoiding stricter restrictions on people. It’s about effectively recalibrating our response and recognizing that large numbers of people in nightclubs and late night bars is a risk factor that we believe is responsible for removing it for the time being,” Mr Coveney told reporters in Dublin on Wednesday.

Mr Coveney said the government’s job is not to make popular decisions, but to make decisions based on public health advice.

“We need to protect people and society more generally and we have done that. I think it’s the right decision,” he said.

“We cannot rule out further restrictions and we will simply have to monitor the behavior of this virus in the coming weeks to see if we have done enough to protect society through the winter or if we need to do more.

“But the last thing the government wants is certainly another set of severe restrictions in the run-up to Christmas.”

When asked whether the government was delaying the inevitable in terms of introducing further restrictions, the minister replied: “no, I hope not”.

“Of course we have to wait and see how the virus behaves and the numbers in the ICU and the hospital. We now predict that anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 people with Covid could be in hospital and the number in ICU could rise above 200,” he added.

Booster Vaccines

Coveney said the widespread use of antigen testing “makes sense, but in the right setting.” He said the more antigen testing available to humans, “the more it will be used.” He said “the lower the cost and the easier it is to access, the better”.

He added that the public should “wait and see what decisions the government makes” in terms of free antigen testing for all households.

He said there are currently 2.5 million people eligible for a Covid-19 booster shot and that “unfortunately too many people get a booster date and don’t show up for it”.

“People need to realize that to get through the winter safely, the booster campaign is very important and for it to work, people need to be excited to get it and show up for a date,” he said.

He added: “Obviously we will also get below 50, I suspect Niac will advise clearly on that in due course.

“Now let’s focus on boosting the 2.5 million people on vaccine protection. There are almost 400,000 people on boosters already.”

Mr Coveney spoke at the launch of the 2021-2022 Be Winter Ready information campaign.

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