The HSE’s chief clinical officer has called on the public to wear masks in outdoor congregated settings such as sporting events.
Dr Colm Henry also said that people did not have to go out every night just because bars, restaurants and nightclubs were open.
Speaking on RTÉ radio, Dr Henry called on people to halve their social contacts, which he said would help to reduce transmission of the virus. He also urged anyone with symptoms to stay at home, self-isolate and book a PCR test.
When asked if he thought that Ireland would have to impose a lockdown as had been done in Austria, Dr Henry said he hoped not and pointed out that Ireland had a higher vaccination rate and had accelerated the booster campaign.
He said the Irish health service was not in danger because the vaccination programme meant that people were able to avoid hospital and severe illness. In January for every 1,000 cases, 55 people had been admitted to hospital – that figure was half that now, he said.
However, not even the best resourced health system in the world could cope effectively with the current Covid surge, he said.
Dr Henry appealed to the unvaccinated to take the jab not just to protect themselves, but also to protect their families and friends as the virus was so much more transmissible.
One ICU bed
Intensive care staff in hospitals were very worried and exhausted by the rising numbers, he added. The situation last weekend in Dublin had been particularly worrying when there had been only one ICU bed available.
Dr Henry defended the HSE’s decision to seek a five-day derogation for health care staff to continue working even if a close contact tests positive. The current level of absenteeism was having a huge impact on the health service, he said.
Previously, when the situation had been much more difficult a derogation had been agreed, now most staff had been vaccinated and the HSE had to look at sustaining the service, he said.
Dr Henry said the National Immunisation Advisory Committee was considering the position of people who had received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, following reports the vaccine's effectiveness wanes more quickly.
On the issue of high levels of ‘no shows’ for booster vaccine appointments, Dr Henry acknowledged that repeated texts were being sent, but that the health service was “not giving up”. As with the flu vaccine which had to be repeated every year, it was not unusual for vaccines to be repeated every year, he said.