No plans to delay further reopening despite Delta variant concerns - Taoiseach 

No plans to delay further reopening despite Delta variant concerns - Taoiseach 

People wearing face coverings on a Luas Tram in Dublin

There are no plans to delay further reopening planned from July 5, despite the rise in Delta variant cases, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said.

Mr Martin was commenting after a meeting of the Cabinet which heard an update from Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly about the increase in the Delta variant.

There has been some concern expressed at the rise in the case numbers related to the Delta or Indian variant, which public health officials said accounted for 20% of all new cases in the past seven days.

According to sources at Cabinet, despite Mr Donnelly voicing concern about the prevalence of Delta variant cases in Derry, especially among the 18-24 age group, and Donegal, the plan to continue the re-opening will proceed as planned.

This will see a return to indoor dining, allowing more people from other households visit indoors to your home, and 50 people being allowed attend a wedding.

Ministers have said Mr Donnelly told them about measures being taken to contain the outbreak in Athlone.

Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue told reporters after Cabinet that the intention is to implement the reopening plan, but that the Government is “closely monitoring” the situation around the Delta variant, which he said is a concern.

Mr Martin said “we have to be very vigilant and people have to be vigilant in their personal behaviour. The vaccination programme is key.” 

Earlier, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the rise in Delta variant cases was a cause of concern but there is “no reason to panic at this stage”.

The Cabinet will be briefed by the National Public Health Emergency Team next week, ahead of the final decision to proceed with further reopening - including indoor dining and drinking - on July 5.

Cabinet briefed on Delta variant as 14 cases identified in Midlands outbreak

Earlier: The Cabinet has been briefed on the rapid rise in Covid-19 Delta cases after 14 cases in the Midlands were linked to the variant and medical experts raised concern about the possible impact on the easing of restrictions on July 5.

Dr Una Fallon, Director for Public Health in the Midlands, confirmed 14 “primary cases” linked to a gathering in Athlone, which occurred on the west side of the river Shannon on June 11, have been identified as being “probably” the Delta variant.

Speaking to Morning Ireland, Dr Fallon said there is also evidence a number of “secondary cases started to grow over the weekend.” 

“Each of those lives in a home or a household, many of those go to work, so we have other links to that basic cluster."

14 primary cases in the midlands have been identified as being "probably" the Delta variant, director of Public Health, HSE Midlands, Dr Una Fallon said.
14 primary cases in the midlands have been identified as being "probably" the Delta variant, director of Public Health, HSE Midlands, Dr Una Fallon said.

Dr Fallon said the cases were “all young people” and appealed to anyone who may have links to the gathering on that Friday night not to attend work or “super spreading events like funerals or parties.” 

It is expected that Nphet will give a detailed briefing on the latest situation early next week.

Speaking last night, the chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said there has been a “concerning increase” in the transmission of the Delta variant in the past week with the strain now accounting for up to one in five infections in the State.

There has also been a number of outbreaks associated with the variant.

“This is similar to a pattern being seen in a number of other EU member states,” Dr Holohan said.

“In the UK, Delta has been the dominant strain of Covid-19 for a number of weeks and now they are beginning to experience a rise in hospitalisations.

“It is really important that people who are not fully vaccinated continue to follow all public health advice.

“This includes people who are waiting for their second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine."

In a statement on Monday evening, the Department of Public Health in the Midlands advised anyone who was socialising in Athlone on the evening of June 11 to attend a Covid-19 test centre.

It is understood that Covid-19 cases associated with socialising by the river on the west side on that Friday are suspected to be the Delta variant, first identified in India. 

Pause on lifting of restrictions 

Health professionals today expressed increased concern about the easing of restrictions on indoor hospitality services on July 5.

Virologist Dr Kim Roberts, an assistant professor of microbiology at Trinity College Dublin said people need to be prepared for a change to the proposed easing of restrictions given the concerns surrounding the Delta variant. 

The Delta variant is 40% to 60% more transmissible than previous variants of Covid-19 and is also more transmissible outdoors, Dr Roberts said, warning that it could lead to "big" outbreaks indoors.

There were also cases from other countries where the variant had been spread at outdoor events “in just seconds” where there was an absence of mask-wearing, she said.

“This variant is potentially very nasty, this virus is very nasty. Staying cautious is the best way to stay safe.” 

Speaking on Morning Ireland, Dr Roberts said it was important to monitor ventilation in indoor spaces which was why she was “very worried” about the planned easing of restrictions for indoor spaces on July 5.

On RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show, Dr Mary Favier, NPHET member and former president of the Irish College of General Practitioners, said there was a need to be cautious as it was important to avoid a situation where hospitals were again being “over run”.

Dr Favier also urged people to turn up for their vaccination appointments as “a substantial number” of people did not attend appointments. They should “turn down” doing anything else and get the vaccine, she said. People should also get their second dose of the vaccine as it would "make all the difference."

A suggestion that young people aged 19 to 24 should be vaccinated now instead of the 30-39 cohort had “merit” and was worth discussing, she said as they tended to work in hospitality and would be most at risk if there was a return to indoor facilities.

There had been “significant social solidarity” from the public in using age as the deciding factor.

Deferring the easing of restrictions on indoor facilities for two to three weeks “could make all the difference” she said.

Reopening indoor hospitality would be 'a disaster'

On the same programme Professor Aoife McLysaght of the Independent Scientific Advisory Group, said that Ireland had an opportunity to heed the warnings of what had happened in the UK where the relaxing of restrictions had been deferred.

Reopening the indoor hospitality sector at this stage was “going to be a disaster” she warned.

Donegal GP, Dr Denis McCauley, said that the malware cyber attack on the HSE had affected the reporting of Covid numbers, so it was difficult to assess the impact of the Delta variant.

Dr McCauley paid tribute to the public health system, saying that the work of the service, along with the public “generally following the rules” had helped to slow the spread of the virus.

The “biggest break” in the fight against Covid was the vaccination programme, public health measures and the “bloody good work” of the public, he said. When asked about the easing of restrictions he said “let’s look at the numbers and see what transpires.

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