Covid-19 Ireland restrictions could be relaxed next week if hospital numbers remain 'stable', says Stephen Donnelly

By Ferghal Blaney

Stephen Donnelly has teed-up more lifting of restrictions on the way next week after he said if hospital figures remain “stable” that the Government could “relax measures.”

And Mr Donnelly has revealed population immunity could be nearly here as well because half a million people a week will continue to be infected by Covid for the coming weeks.

The Minister for Health’s comments came after the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Tony Holohan, revealed that he has written to NIAC for a detailed report on potential herd immunity.

It has allowed Mr Donnelly to pave the way for a potential landmark announcement on the lifting of more restrictions next week as the peak of Omicron is believed to be near.

This could see a return to normality for many with the dreaded 8pm curfew on pubs and restaurants, as well as cultural venues like cinemas and theatres, one of the key restrictions to be considered for the chop.

Mr Donnelly told reporters on Thursday morning that the country could soon hit near-herd immunity.

Covid case numbers are expected to be 500,000 again this week and possibly again for some weeks to come.

Mr Donnelly said: “The reality is right now, probably about half a million people a week are getting Omicron, so it’s not a contained virus.”

He continued: “Given the stability of the hospital system as being part of it (the Covid situation) that we can relax these measures.”

Mr Donnelly also referenced the huge success of the booster jabs programme which will see 2.5million people with the third jab in their arms by the end of this week.

He added: “My view, the Government’s view is that nobody wants restrictions in place, there’s a huge burden that they impose.”

Mr Donnelly was speaking at one of the country’s newest - and largest - vaccination centres in the RDS in Dublin city.

All eyes will now be on next week’s Cabinet meetings and a crunch NPHET meeting of the country’s top medics on Thursday January 20th where the next crucial decisions will be taken.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday evening Dr Holohan, Dr Ronan Glynn and Professor Philip Nolan gave a Covid update briefing to journalists.

Dr Holohan said: “I've written to the NIAC, asking NIAC to give some consideration and I mentioned this in the NPHET letter to the Minister last week that they would do that, to say, given our experience now, both the protection that we've seen from severe infection for people who are vaccinated and boosted, and also the performance of the vaccines, in terms of, not just the impact on symptomatic transmission, but the duration of that (the restrictions regime), and how quickly that might wean, that might then be concluded.”

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