The spiralling Covid-19 case numbers are causing havoc for businesses and key services, with An Post now warning some post offices may have to close due to high pandemic-related absences.
Employers' body Ibec estimates that between 15%-18% of workers in most industries are currently out of work due to Covid — rising to up to 20% in manufacturing.
- A number of businesses are having to put contingency plans in place due to staff shortages;
- An Post is telling customers that where a post office has to temporarily close, social welfare benefit payments will be transferred to a neighbouring office;
- Pharmacies face having to reduce hours or close for certain days. The Irish Pharmacy Union is urging people to plan ahead and, where possible, order required medications, such as repeat prescriptions, well in advance;
- Schools are relying heavily on substitute teachers as absentee levels have been reported at up to 30% for teachers and 40% for pupils since the new term began on Thursday;
- The Irish Prison Service has suspended visits by relatives as part of its Covid-19 response.
A lot of staff shortages are due to the rules around close contacts. A Government source indicated a review of those rules is still "definitely something that is on the table".
"It must be based on public health advice," the source said.
HSE chief operations officer Anne O'Connor has confirmed that approximately 12% of healthcare staff — 14,000-15,000 workers — are currently absent due to Covid-19 across all healthcare services.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation said its members have told it that the level of staff absence is unsustainable. It wants an even longer suspension of elective operations. Earlier this week the HSE urged hospitals to cancel electives for two weeks.
The case surge due to the Omicron variant is also threatening to result in the return of widespread maternity restrictions.
HSE chief executive Paul Reid said maternity units have so far managed to maintain visits for partners of pregnant women, and officials are "anxiously trying to sustain" commitments to keep that access in place.
However, he added that they are asking people to "bear with us" if restrictions have to be increased.
“We can never say that we will never take certain actions or decisions," he told RTÉ Radio. "Ultimately what we are trying to do is protect those commitments in terms of partner visits.
A spokesperson for Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said the priority is to keep both mothers and babies as safe as possible, and certain restrictions may be required in individual hospitals.
"We want to keep the restrictions to an absolute minimum," the spokesperson said.
While partners can still attend the births, restrictions have already been imposed on visiting after the birth in University Maternity Hospital Limerick as well as University Hospitals Galway and Mayo.
Linda Kelly, a Cork advocate with Better Maternity Care, said her organisation is "very happy" that so far there has not been a blanket reintroduction of restrictions.
"We always knew if there were outbreaks in specific sites, there would have to be specific circumstances considered,” she said.
A further 21,926 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed last night. There were 936 people in hospital with the disease, down five on the previous day, with 84 of those in intensive care units, down six.