Covid Ireland: Restrictions latest as Tony Holohan set to recommend key rule change after NPHET meet

By Ciara Phelan & Marita Moloney

Omicron infections across Ireland continue to surge with a peak in cases not expected until next week.

The five-day moving average of cases stands at over 19,000 with people urged to continue adhering to public health advice.

It has been a week of crunch talks among government ministers and public health officials, with Coalition leaders, Cabinet and NPHET meeting on successive days.

The National Public Health Emergency Team gathered on Thursday to discuss the trajectory of Covid-19 and whether additional measures might be needed at this point.

However, they did not recommend the introduction of additional Covid restrictions, saying that more data is needed on the impact of infections on ICUs.

It is understood that Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan will give the green light to a key rule change sought by the party leaders.

Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer. (Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin)

The CMO is expected to follow through on the Coalition leaders’ request to reduce the isolation period required for triple-vaccinated close contacts who are asymptomatic and have negative tests.

A senior source said Covid-19 is “so rampant” currently in communities that “more restrictions would be pointless.”

Instead, NPHET is expected to urge the government to encourage the public to redouble their efforts on reducing socialising.

Speaking on Friday morning, one NPHET member said the easing of restrictions needs to be considered "quite soon".

Dr Mary Favier, Covid adviser to the Irish College of General Practitioners, said a relaxation of the rules "would need to be looked at and looked at quite soon".

"General Practitioners are very concerned about non-Covid care being missed, and significant diagnoses being missed," she told Newstalk Breakfast.

"So restrictions all across healthcare and across society would be lifted reasonably quickly, not completely, but all with a view to getting healthcare workers back to work, getting society functioning when we have a better sense of what those figures mean.

"As people will know, the last thing anybody wants to do is go backwards - as we've said before - but hopefully we're starting to see some glimmer of light".

It comes as schools across Ireland reopened on Thursday but with thousands of children and teachers not returning due to Covid-19.

Concerns remain among teachers' unions, which have called for increased protective measures for staff and students to be implemented.

General Secretary of the INTO John Boyle said that initial feedback from members on the ground was that Thursday "was an incredibly difficult first day back, with many pupils and staff members restricting movement due to contracting the virus or being close contacts".

A spokeswoman for the ASTI added that reports from members were that 15% to 30% of staff are absent due to Covid-related issues.

Children wear mouth masks on the playground of a primary school (ERIC LALMAND/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)

Fresh data has now revealed that in the second half of last year, there were 514 Covid outbreaks in schools, higher than any other public sector.

Meanwhile, updated EU Digital Covid Certs reflecting people's booster jabs began being issued from Thursday afternoon.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly announced that they will be automatically issued to booster vaccine recipients, while those who have recovered from infection within the last six months can also request proof of recovery.

It comes as fully vaccinated people arriving in Ireland are no longer be required to produce a negative Covid test following a major travel rule change.

As of midnight on Thursday, those who are fully inoculated against the virus will not need to show a negative antigen or PCR test when arriving in the country via air or sea.

The decision was made in response to advice to government that "the additional international travel requirements applied in response to the emergence of the Omicron variant should be removed".

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