Booster jabs are working but Omicron could still kill many people, warns Health Minister Stephen Donnelly

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has warned that people are still getting “very sick” and dying from Covid-19 ahead of the Cabinet meeting to discuss the ongoing situation with the Omicron variant.

r Donnelly said there is still a lot of “uncertainly internationally” around the new strain of Covid but said the data from Irish hospitals has been “encouraging” and insisted boosters are providing “powerful protection”.

“However, with so many people getting infected, even a less severe variant can make a lot of people very sick and still result in a lot of people dying,” Mr Donnelly told the Irish Independent.

Mr Donnelly said the booster campaign is the best defence against the virus and added that unvaccinated people make up around half the hospital and critical care patients.

The minister’s comments come as the three coalition leaders meet for the first time in the new year to discuss the pandemic. Central to discussions will be moves to change the restriction period for people who are deemed a close contact of someone who has tested positive for Covid-19.

Under the current rules, a close contact who has not received a booster vaccine must isolate for up to seven days while those who have received their third jab must isolate for five days.

The party leaders are expected to agree to a shorter isolation period for people deemed close contacts amid increasing concern over the impact the rules are having on essential services and workforces. Businesses have been forced to close due to the high number of staff isolating.

The three leaders have been examining international data ahead of the meeting, including from America where isolation periods were reduced to five days for those diagnosed with Covid, while people who are boosted do not have to isolate if they are close contacts.

In Ireland, those diagnosed with Covid who have not received their booster shots must isolate for 10 days, while those who are boosted must isolate for seven days.

Last night, Government sources said it was unlikely that these rules will be changed this week.

Ministers also believe the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) will recommend reducing the number of people who can meet indoors after they meet on Thursday.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan has already urged the public not to socialise or meet with other household indoors.

The current government rules allow three households to meet in one other person’s home. Government has taken a lenient approach to these rules and insisted they will not be policed.

Several government sources said there is no appetite in Government for the introduction of significant new restrictions and indicated they are not in favour of closing schools or any other sector of society. However, there is an acceptance among ministers that further restrictions on household visits may be necessary over the coming weeks.

Nphet will meet on Thursday to discuss whether there is a need for new restrictions. A Cabinet meeting has not been scheduled for later in the week but the Taoiseach’s spokesperson said arrangements could be made if Nphet makes significant recommendations.

A Cabinet Committee on Covid-19 may also be held to discuss any advice from Dr Holohan’s team.

Yesterday, a total of 16,986 cases of Covid-19 were recorded, bringing the total over the Bank Holiday weekend to 57,338 cases.

The number of people with Covid in hospital has risen to 804, of whom 93 are in intensive care units. This was up from 700 people in hospital and 87 in intensive care the previous day.

Meanwhile, parents can now register children aged five to 11 for vaccines, with the roll-out set to begin imminently. Registration can be done online, and parents will receive a text message confirming their appointment. Parents are advised they will need a PPS number, Eircode, mobile phone number and email address to register online.

Alternatively, they can call HSELive on 1800 700 700 to register their child over the phone.

Children who do not have a PPS number can still be vaccinated, but their parents must register them on the phone with the HSE. Children will be offered the Pfizer vaccine, but in a smaller dose.

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