Health Minister rules out return to 'very draconian' lockdown measures
The Minister for Health has ruled out the reintroduction of mandatory mask-wearing, saying there is no longer a need for the “draconian power” that was in force during the pandemic.
Stephen Donnelly defended the Government’s stance on masks, and said it was important to move away from the legal obligation to wear one.
He said that Ireland has moved away from the emergency phase of the pandemic.
“The mandatory powers that were in place were very draconian powers and they were emergency powers,” he told RTE’s News At One.
“We are moving from the emergency phase of Covid to a more medium term phase of living with Covid.
“There is still public health advice around the wearing of masks, however the regulations around people being fined and people being arrested, it was important we move away from that.
“There is still advice around masks, if on public transport, in a busy public place and obviously going to a healthcare setting or a nursing home, that advice is still wear a mask in those place.”
Mr Donnelly said the BA.2 strain of Covid accounts for around 90% of all cases and is the most transmissible variant to date.
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan told the minister that it would take more than mandatory mask wearing to flatten the curve of the dominant variant.
He warned that it would take a suite of serious measures to control the cases but Mr Donnelly ruled out bringing back restrictions.
Mr Donnelly said that while there were many patients in hospital with Covid, which is causing “huge pressure” on health services, the rate of severe illness is “very low”.
The minister was told by Dr Holohan yesterday evening (Thursday March 31) that almost 50,000 positive PCR tests were reported in the last seven days, an increase of 6% on the previous week.
The number of Covid-19 cases in ICU, whose primary reason for admission to ICU was Covid, has decreased from 29 on March 22 to 19 by March 29.
Around 28% of people in ICU were not vaccinated, 2% were partially vaccinated and 70% were fully vaccinated.
Dr Holohan said in the letter: “The overall epidemiological situation indicates continuing high levels of infection and a significant number of cases receiving general hospital care, although this figure has fallen over recent days.”
He also said that anyone who was infected with Covid-19 over the Christmas period is now eligible for a booster.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar also ruled out a return to mandatory mask-wearing.
Speaking at Dublin Zoo, he said that hospital data was showing some positive indicators.
“The pandemic is not over but the emergency phase of the pandemic is,” Mr Varadkar added.
“Some reassurance again today, two days in a row we see the number of people in hospital with Covid has fallen.
“And the number in ICU is staying between 40 and 60, two-thirds of whom would be in ICU anyway.”
Mr Varadkar also indicated that delays to the launch of an advisory public health group to replace the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) were being caused by the need to finalise membership.
He said that he expected an announcement on the new group next week.
“What we actually want in this new Covid advisory group is a mix – a mix of people who are, if you like, on the inside – HSE and Department of Health employees – but also some external people who can bring independence and rigour to the advisory group and they have to be asked.
“The delay is for a number of reasons. We have to agree to the terms of reference, we have to agree who’s going to be asked, they have to be asked and they have to be given a bit of time to respond.”
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