The Government made a mistake by dropping the requirement for a Covid vaccine certificate in the hospitality sector and it could regret the decision in the future, according to immunologist Kingston Mills.
Professor Mills said he was surprised at the pace of the lifting of restrictions this weekend, in particular around the Covid certs.
"We do know that vaccines are less effective against Omicron but the three doses of the vaccine are quite effective," he said adding the uptake of the booster dose has been poor particularly among young people.
“I am very surprised it (requirement for vaccine passes) has been dropped and we may come to regret it.”
Professor Mills said that people with underlying conditions who may not respond well to vaccines and have been cocooning through the pandemic are “the forgotten people in the latest measures.”
He said people who have not been infected by Covid or vaccinated against it could end up in hospital with serious infection if they contract the virus. Some could die, he warned.
Professor Mills said that the under-4 age category and the 5-11 cohort will continue to increase in numbers of the virus given that the first age category are not included in the vaccination programme, and take up is low in the second age group.
He acknowledged a “natural reluctance” by parents to have their children vaccinated but said parents need to weigh up the risks of getting the vaccine with the risks of contracting Covid. He said that while the majority of children will not be seriously ill with the virus, a small number of children can be severely affected.
Professor Mills said the emergence of a new variant called BA2 in Denmark, France and the UK in the last few days is something Ireland has to be prepared for.
“If we release all restrictions now, and don’t get prepared for something further, we are going to be in trouble.” He said that BA2 has 28 differences from Omicron, called BA1, but he said he is confident that there will not be any further drop in the efficacy of the vaccines against it.
He noted, however, that it is more transmissible than Omicron as it has already become the dominant variant in Denmark and believes it will become a “significant variant” in the future.
Meanwhile, Adrian Cummins who also appeared on RTÉ radio with Professor Mills, said a taskforce on ventilation needs to be set up to help prevent hospitality and other businesses from being shut down again in the future.
“We need a ventilation taskforce for all parts of the economy, specifically around hospitality," he said. "If it means that we have to introduce extra capital expenditure, we will look at that but it will have to be supported – maybe as a European-wide effort that has to be done.”
While saying today is a great day with the loosening of restrictions, Mr Cummins said 20,000 businesses in the sector “have been economically flattened for the past two years". He said that while there are almost 140,000 jobs in the industry, nearly 60,000 jobs have been lost in the pandemic.
Mr Cummins said pandemic supports from the government have been welcome but added: "We need the employment wage subsidy scheme extended for another two months.” He said there is one more month left in the scheme but believes a second month is necessary.
“The other major issue that is facing us is tax warehousing. That means that taxes that were due for 2019 were warehoused into the future and that means that at the end of this year and the beginning of 2023, these taxes are now due with interest.”
He said businesses have run up large debts in the pandemic including rent, tax and supplies.
Mr Cummins said there is a need to restructure those debts in a viable way so that “everybody wins here – that the taxpayer wins, the businesses are sustained and that we have an opportunity here to keep employment and create employment into the future".