The latest wave of Covid-19 to hit Ireland does not justify further restrictions, the Taoiseach has said.
The Irish Government has been adamant in recent days that despite soaring Covid-19 cases, it is not contemplating the return of restrictions.
It comes as health officials warn that hospitals are cancelling surgery as they battle with staff absences and growing numbers of Covid patients.
Another 8,910 positive cases of Covid-19 were confirmed by PCR testing in Ireland on Thursday.
A further 14,215 people registered a positive antigen test through the HSE portal.
As of Thursday morning, there were 1,425 Covid-19 patients in hospital, with 53 in intensive care.
Speaking from Brussels, after he saw off a bout of Covid-19 to attend a European Council summit, Micheal Martin said that the Chief Medical Officer had not recommended re-introducing measures to curb the spread of the virus.
Mr Martin said that he had spoken to Dr Tony Holohan in the past 48 hours.
“This current wave seems to be less impactful, less virulent, the CMO is of that view, than earlier variants and it doesn’t justify further economic restrictions.”
He did appeal to people to wear masks in crowded places, despite the legal requirement having lifted.
Dr Holohan, the Taoiseach said, has not “withdrawn advice in terms of the desirability of wearing of masks in crowded settings”.
Earlier, HSE chief operations officer Anne O’Connor said that hospitals are bearing the brunt of the rise in cases.
Cases in hospital are up 29% in the last week.
As of Wednesday, there were 1,395 Covid-positive patients in hospital, with 55 in intensive care.
Ms O’Connor said around half of those patients were in hospital because they had become sick after contracting the virus.
She added: “In one way, that doesn’t really matter to us. If they are infectious with Covid, they need to be on a Covid ward, in isolation.”
She named Sligo, Kerry and Limerick as places where staff were under particular pressure.
But she added: “We are seeing huge pressures all around the country.
“This is not just unique to hospitals. It is across the board.”
More than 5,200 staff are absent due to Covid-19, she confirmed.
“If you go to Limerick yesterday, they had serious problems with some specialties, where they had a consultant and some of their team out with Covid.
“If they are gone, and their team is gone with Covid, we can’t provide that service.”
Ms O’Connor said some hospitals and services are being forced to cancel elective surgery, even if they are endeavouring to still provide urgent or critical care.
“I know far more people with Covid than I ever have at the minute,” she told RTE radio.
She said the health service has to get through the coming weeks and in the hope that case numbers and hospital figures will start to fall.
“The only lever in a hospital, unfortunately, is to cancel planned work,” she said.
Tanaiste Leo Varadkar told a meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party on Wednesday night that the chief medical officer does not see the need for further Covid restrictions.
He expressed his concern about rising numbers but stressed the Omicron variant of coronavirus is less severe, adding that the population is highly vaccinated and economic and social restrictions are not imposed for a bad flu season.
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