“Fundamentally we’re on a knife-edge”, Professor Philip Nolan, the chair of NPHET's Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, has warned.
Speaking on RTÉ radio’s, Prof Nolan called on the 300,000 people who are not yet vaccinated to do so.
Making a decision not to be vaccinated was not just a personal choice, he said of well-known people who had declined to be vaccinated. There was an obligation, he said, especially if they had a “followership”.
The only way to deal with someone with concerns about the vaccine was to talk to them and find out why they had concerns, he added.
The Department of Health and Niac had provided good information and the vaccination programme was now focusing on significant groups that were marginalised who did not get the information and may have concerns. The information would be provided in their language so they could be assured about the safety of the vaccine.
The virus was spreading “subtly and slowly” through the vaccinated population, he warned.
“Leaving your home with symptoms has to become socially unacceptable like drink driving,” said Prof Nolan.
“You shouldn’t mix if you have any symptoms, you’re better off not working as you could infect the one in ten unvaccinated person.”
There was a balance between the vaccine protection and the level of social activity, it was down to individual actions, the choice to stay home (if you have symptoms), wear a mask, wash hands. “That balance simply seems to have tilted”.
The protection from the vaccine was “outstanding” but it was not complete.
Prof Nolan said that Nphet would have to wait for a few more days to gather more data to make an opinion about the easing of restrictions on October 22.
“We need to look at the data to see how the numbers are evolving over time. The concern is that it is growing, but it depends on the type of patterns, what is influencing the numbers.”
The current situation was one of the scenarios that had been modelled, he said, “we had hoped it wouldn’t happen”. The demand in tests in the past few days was an indication that things “are not going in the right direction”.
There was a concern that the positive cases being identified now could transfer into hospitalisations in the next week.
“Society needs to encourage people to take the vaccine, that would reduce the level of infection and protect others from hospitalisation”.
Earlier, the HSE’s Chief Operations Officer Anne O'Connor repeated an appeal for people who are not yet vaccinated to do so as the number of cases of Covid continues to rise.
Ms O’Connor told RTÉ radio’sthat the majority of patients admitted to hospital with Covid and into ICU were not vaccinated, and that 10% of the unvaccinated adult population was responsible for 50% of admissions.
“Cases are growing and it is really important that people see that is why we are giving a third vaccine to the over 80s, to those in nursing homes and the immunocompromised” she added.
The situation in recent weeks had changed with more people needing admission to hospital.
“There are more sick people turning up, who need to be admitted to hospital for a whole range of reasons including increased frailty and people who are just sicker”.
Hospitals in general, but in Galway, Limerick and Cork in particular, were under pressure and there were fewer than 100 beds available across the health system on Wednesday night, said Ms O’Connor.
The Covid lead for the Irish College of General Practitioners, Dr Mary Favier has said that the rising number of Covid cases has caused “a ripple of anxiety” for GPs as non-Covid care has been “displaced”.
GPs have noticed “a slow rise” in cases in recent weeks, she toldThis has led to more hospitalisations and more Covid patients in ICU beds “displacing” non-Covid patients.
This was against a background of the good vaccination levels which was a concern for hospital capacity and treatment for non-Covid patients.
Dr Favier pointed out that Kerry University Hospital had been “turning patients away” because there were no beds available.
“This is déjà vu. It’s all about hospital capacity.” It was difficult to understand what was happening, she said.
“There must be something in our behaviour, how we’re acting” as Ireland’s cases were far higher than other European countries.
There were still “a good few” people who were not vaccinated and they were the ones who were getting sick and ending up in hospital and in ICU, warned Dr Favier. She was particularly concerned about the unvaccinated over 50s and encouraged them to get vaccinated.
People were still getting their first vaccine, she said.
Nphet will meet next Monday to “pull the figures together” and then advise the Government who would make a decision on restrictions, she said.
Immunology expert Professor Christine Loscher has said the easing of restrictions should go ahead on October 22, but that vaccine certs should be retained as a mitigating measure.
Maintaining the necessity to produce a vaccine cert before entering a premises will minimise the impact of the opening up of society, she told RTÉ radio’s.
Case numbers had increased in recent weeks, she said as people began to behave differently in anticipation of the lifting of further restrictions on October 22.
Prof Loscher said measures such as mask-wearing should be maintained as she had noticed a decrease in their use recently.
“We need to accept that people get sicker in winter in general. They are mixing indoors in closed environments. That’s to be expected.”
Vaccines had provided a wall of protection which meant even if people contracted Covid they would have mild symptoms and not require hospitalisation.
The experience in countries like New Zealand had shown that zero Covid was not possible, but if the vaccination campaign continued “at some stage it will level off.”