Ireland could avoid more severe Covid restrictions, says Dr Holohan

Ireland Could Avoid More Severe Covid Restrictions, Says Dr Holohan
Leo Varadkar said the Government does not have plans to introduce more restrictions before the end of the year, but will take action if needed. Photo: PA Images.
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Vivienne Clarke and Press Association

Ireland may still be able to avoid more severe Covid-19 restrictions, the chief medical officer said, as new measures were introduced on Monday to tackle the now-dominant Omicron variant.

Dr Tony Holohan said that the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) will continue to monitor an expected surge in cases linked to the variant over Christmas, and did not rule out the need for tougher measures to protect the health system.


“We’re not going away for Christmas,” he told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told the same programme that the Government does not have plans to introduce more restrictions before the end of the year, but will take action if needed.

“If we have to, we will move to protect lives and to protect the health service,” he said.

Mr Varadkar added that he thought Ireland could “weather” the Omicron variant, although it would see "very high" case numbers.


“I hope people won’t be afraid to see that because it is a much more transmissible strain of virus so we will see very high case numbers," he said. “We are hoping and expecting that it won’t translate into hospitalisations and ICU admissions and deaths to the extent it did in previous waves.”

'Periods of greater freedom'

Mr Varadkar said that he did not foresee schools not reopening after Christmas. If there was to be any change then the Minister for Education would make an announcement.

He also indicated that after Ireland had “conquered” the Omicron wave, it should consider giving people “periods of greater freedom”.


The Government could “give consideration to giving people periods of greater freedom on the understanding that future variants may come along and winter will come inevitably”, Mr Varadkar said.

Dr Holohan meanwhile said that he hoped the measures introduced on Monday would be enough to curb a sharp rise in infections, but warned people to “buy into not just the letter but the spirit of that guidance”.

“We believe that if we can follow the measures that have been mandated and decided upon by Government that we can have without recourse to further restrictions, so my message is now to concentrate on what’s in front of us.”

Dr Holohan called on people to reduce the number of people they meet over Christmas. It was difficult at any time to so no to family gatherings, but it was particularly difficult at Christmas.


“Because things are open, it doesn’t mean that you have to do them, necessarily.”


He refused to speculate over whether schools would remain closed after the Christmas holidays, amid concerns about the spread of the virus among children.

Dr Holohan explained that Nphet’s proposal of a 5pm closing time for hospitality had been an attempt to cut down on the opportunities for socialising. But, ultimately, it was up to each individual to monitor their own behaviour and take preventative measures, he said.

If Nphet thought that further measures were required then they would mandate change, Dr Holohan said, but denied reports of a meeting with the Taoiseach planned for December 30th to introduce further restrictions.


“A lot has changed in the last three weeks (since Omicron was identified). We are monitoring on a day by day basis,” he said.

No two countries were in the same position, he added. There were many other countries with strong public health systems that still had no choice but to implement restrictions.

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Dr Holohan declined to speculate that measures could still be in place at Christmas next year.

“My focus is on this Christmas, because we’re right now in a situation where, and I don’t like using analogies like tidal waves and so on, but the wave of infection that this is going to represent is right in front of us now," he said.

“I’m not going to speculate as to where we’re going to be next Christmas in relation to all of those things. My focus, as I say right now, is on the imminent risk that exists from a public health point of view arising from Omicron for the Irish public.”

The ability to limit transmission rested with everyone, Dr Holohan said. Vaccines gave a level of protection against serious illness and mortality, there was a lot of misinformation at present saying that vaccines did not work. They did, he said. Because of the vaccine programme Ireland had one of the lowest rates of hospitalisation and mortality in Europe.

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