Further lockdowns are not inevitable, but it will require a national effort to avoid them, Minister Simon Coveney has said.
He said the country can still avoid the return of enhanced restrictions if people pull together and reduce the spread of Covid-19.
Mr Coveney was speaking as a further 4,181 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed this afternoon by officials at the Health Protection Surveillance Centre.
As of 8am this morning, there were 668 Covid patients are hospitalised, 125 of whom were being treated in intensive care.
As of 8am today, 668 COVID-19 patients are hospitalised, of which 125 are in ICU.
*Daily case numbers may change due to future data validation
— Department of Health (@roinnslainte) November 21, 2021
Mr Coveney urged the public to adhere to current public health guidelines and said if further restrictions were needed, then affected businesses would be supported by government.
“What we’re asking people to do to limit their social contacts to make sure that rooms are ventilated to wear masks when people are in crowds indoors and outdoors to work from home, when you can,” Mr Coveney said.
“We will introduce restrictions if it makes sense from a public health perspective to do it. Nobody wants to introduce restrictions again. Of course, we don’t.
“But if we have to act, to protect society and to protect our health system and hospitals, then of course, we will do that,” he said.
“We’ve spent about €8 billion on PUP payments so far. We will continue to support vulnerable sectors that are restricted due to decisions we need to make on Covid,” he said.
Antigen tests, boosters
Mr Coveney confirmed that a memorandum on the subsidisation of antigen tests will go to Cabinet on Tuesday.
“Are we going to use a lot more antigen tests? Absolutely. Are we going to make constant testing more affordable? I strongly expect we will and hopefully we’ll make be able to make a decision on that on Tuesday,” he said.
Mr Coveney said people need to make sure that they only use an antigen test when they have no symptoms. If people have symptoms, they should only get a PCR test.
On boosters, Mr Coveney rejected opposition criticism about the slow rollout of the booster campaign saying that 500,000 people have already received their third jab.
“Our vaccination rollout has been an extraordinary success. We currently have the capacity to roll out boosters to the tune of about 230,000 a week that will soon be up to 270,000 a week and probably beyond that. Now that we have somewhere between 700 and 1000 pharmacies also wanting to be part of that rollout,” he said.
Aontú leader Peadar Tobin said the big problem is the lack of hospital capacity and said the government has done little to improve capacity notwithstanding a major increase in funding since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
Róisín Shortall, co-leader of the Social Democrats said there’s no doubt the situation is very grave.
“We have a very narrow window of opportunity to actually try and flatten that curve as we’ve talked about for so long. The government needs to take action to ramp up its areas of responsibility.
“We all individually have to modify our behaviour is but there are certainly elements that only government can deal with. They need to ensure that the boosters are rolled out far quicker,” she said.
Ms Shortall said we need to ensure that there’s adequate capacity with PCR testing.
“For most of the