Health Secretary Stephen Donnelly defends non-compliance with mask rules as he releases Tony Holohan’s latest Covid advice


Health Secretary Stephen Donnelly said it was appropriate to let the government’s pandemic powers expire overnight as Ireland exits the “emergency” phase of the public health crisis.

Minister Donnelly has defended the Government’s decision not to reintroduce mandatory mask wearing as he relayed the Chief Medical Officer’s advice to the Government.

Mr Donnelly reiterated that only “serious” restrictions could limit the spread of the BA.2 variant and that they were not necessary as the level of serious illness caused by the latest Covid-19 strain was “relatively low”. .

But he said the public should follow the “advice” and continue to wear masks on public transport and in “crowded places” to protect vulnerable people and reassure nervous individuals.

“The powers that were in place were obviously very draconian powers and they were emergency powers and what we are really doing is we are moving from the emergency phase of Covid to a medium-term life with Covid,” he said.

“There’s still public health advice around masks, but the regulations, the legal requirements around fines and potentially arrests of people, it was important that we move away from that.”

Minister Donnelly said the decision not to reintroduce mandatory mask wearing was on the advice of Dr. Tony Holohan, and he released the CMO’s latest letter this afternoon. The CMO did not recommend changing current public health advice, but reiterated the need for those who were not boosted to have the third vaccination as soon as possible.

Speaking of RTÉ News at OneMinister Donnelly said the BA.2 strain is the most “transmissible” variant yet and currently accounts for about 95 per cent of all cases.

He said 700,000 people nationwide are eligible for a Covid-19 booster vaccine and he urged them to get a booster vaccine to ease the burden on hospitals.

Only half of people ages 25 to 34 have taken the booster, and only 60 percent of people ages 35 to 44 have taken the booster, said Dr. Holohan to Secretary Donnelly.

Almost half of the people hospitalized (48.5) with the virus are there because of an illness caused by the virus, with the rest hospitalized for other reasons, the letter from the CMO said.

Mr Donnelly said there was a sense of “cautious optimism” that the current wave has peaked in Ireland as “five-day caseload” and “positivity rates” fall.

“Hopefully the signs are that we have passed the peak. What we’ve seen in some other countries, after they’ve passed that peak, is that cases have come down pretty quickly, and what we’re really aiming for … is a drop in cases in hospitals because of the tremendous pressure,” he said.

In the past week nearly 100,000 positive test results have been registered between PCR results and people who have uploaded antigen test results to the HSE portal, the CMO told Minister Donnelly.

The number of people over 55 testing positive by PCRs is growing, but the number of people registering positive antigen results has fallen by 30 percent over the past week, Dr. holohan.

This comes as Minister Donnelly told Fianna Fáil colleagues that the true number of cases in Ireland due to the highly infectious BA.2 subvariant of Omicron is likely to be in the hundreds of thousands a week.

The 14-day incidence rate in Ireland shows almost one in 50 people have had the virus in the past two weeks, but the CMO said that was likely an underestimate of the recent number of infections.

Three-quarters of people hospitalized with the virus in the past week are over the age of 65, while the total number of people hospitalized with the virus has fallen in recent days.

As of 8am this morning, 1,472 patients were hospitalized with the virus, down 63 from the same time yesterday.

While the number of intensive care units has remained relatively low compared to 58 people in intensive care today.

Minister Donnelly said less than half of the Covid-19 patients in hospital today have received a booster vaccine and just over half of those in intensive care have been boosted.

He expects the pressure on hospitals to ease as case numbers drop.

“We obviously have to be very careful, but what we’ve seen before is that when cases go down, hospitalization admission rates tend to go down about a week later and intensive care unit admission rates tend to go down about a week after that,” he said.

“Hopefully we’ll see the pressure on hospitals ease.”

He added that work continues to ramp up the delivery of elective care, which has been disrupted by the current virus wave.

Previously, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said people under the age of 55 with no underlying illnesses and showing symptoms of Covid-19 should isolate “for a few days” but do not need a PCR or antigen test.

Mr Varadkar also said he does not expect the seven-day isolation period for positive cases to be reduced to five days, but said the government will now encourage people with symptoms to isolate rather than test them.

“The advice we’re going to emphasize more and more is that people under 55 who are in good health don’t actually need to take a test.

“What you have to do if you have symptoms is isolate yourself and once your symptoms are gone in a few days you can go back to normal life,” he told reporters at Dublin Zoo.

However, he said people who are over the age of 55 or who have an underlying condition that has symptoms should still get tested. Health Secretary Stephen Donnelly defends non-compliance with mask rules as he releases Tony Holohan’s latest Covid advice

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