Ireland’s tough Covid-19 restrictions could remain in place for the first half of the year, the Taoiseach has said.
Micheál Martin said the number of new daily cases of Covid-19 needs to fall into the hundreds, and possibly as low as 100-200, before restrictions can be relaxed.
He added he is particularly concerned about the new UK variant of the virus.
The Fianna Fáil leader said the Government needs to adopt a “cautious and conservative” approach to managing the disease, warning the restrictions will be more prolonged than any to date.
He told RTE Radio 1 on Saturday: “Case numbers have to be well below, have to be in the hundreds, if not 100-200. That low.
“I’m thinking of the variant. That’s what my concern is. It will become the dominant variant here. It is at 62% of all cases. It transmits more easily.
“If we have mass mobilisation and mass socialisation, it will spread again.
“I think with the vaccines coming, there’s an argument to be cautious and conservative now for the first half of this year, until we roll out the vaccines.
“We will be witnessing far more prolonged restrictions than we have to date.
“I’m the Taoiseach, but I have to consult with my colleagues and ministers, and we’ll consult with the opposition as well, but that is my sense of it until we get control.”
He added the restrictions will be reviewed every four weeks.
The Government’s Cabinet sub-committee on Covid-19 is due to meet on Monday to discuss the extension of the current restrictions.
A final decision will be made on Tuesday following a Cabinet meeting.
The Taoiseach told RTÉ’s Brendan O’Connor he is “very worried” about the UK variant, and he had called UK Prime Minster Boris Johnson to discuss the latest research which suggests it may be more deadly than the original virus.
Mr Johnson revealed on Friday that the new variant could increase the mortality rate in some groups by between 30 per cent and 40 per cent.
It was already known that the new variant is up to 70 per cent more transmissible than the original.
Statement from the National Public Health Emergency Team
The Health Protection Surveillance Centre @hpscireland has today been notified of 52 additional deaths related to COVID-19.
— Department of Health (@roinnslainte) January 22, 2021
The Taoiseach said Mr Johnson is “worried”.
Mr Martin said: “I just asked him, what’s his sense of it in terms of the research. He said: ‘They are going to do more research on that.’
“He’s worried about the variant.
“‘There’s something going on out there,’ is what a lay person would say.”
Friday saw a further 52 deaths and 2,371 new cases of Covid-19 reported by the Department of Health.
On Saturday morning there were 1,893 people with the disease in Irish hospitals, with 218 in ICU.
The country’s 14-day incidence rate now stands at 1,017 per 100,000 people.