Rising COVID cases are “not all a bad news story”, according to Infectious Diseases Professor Jack Lambert.
A further 9,006 COVID cases were announced yesterday afternoon, taking the five-day average to 10,158.
There are concerns the number of cases in the community could be higher due to limits on testing over the Christmas period.
Despite the high case numbers, the number of patients in intensive care has remained relatively stable. There were 92 COVID patients in ICU this morning – down eight on this day last week.
Meanwhile the number of patients in hospital has increased to 568, which is up 139 on last week.
On Late Breakfast with Clare McKenna this morning, UCD Professor Jack Lambert the Omicron variant is now ‘rampant’ in Ireland.
He said the high cases numbers do not necessarily put the hospitals in danger.
“We are not unique,” he said. “COVID is not acting differently in Ireland. It is already present in the UK; it has been present in South Africa for a month now.
“What is happening there is – and we knew this from the get-go – was that Omicron took over from Delta in South Africa and the number of hospitalisations and ICU admissions started to drop off.
“So, we knew from early on that this was much more infectious and had a selective advantage over the more dangerous Delta – which is good news – and it is much less lethal.
“So, it is not all a bad news story. The numbers going up is not all a bad news story. It is not impacting on the hospitals in terms of severe illness and ICU admissions like I said but it is much more infectious.”
He said the Government must encourage people to follow public health guidelines without trying to scare them.
“The message for people should be, if you walk into a store without a mask on, guess what? That virus may be aerosolising. If you walk into a store without washing your hands, then guess what? When you touch something and then touch your face, you might catch Omicron.
“So, this is a much more infectious virus but much less lethal so I think that is the message we should be giving the Irish public. Not doom and gloom, the sky is falling, the numbers are going up.
“This is not Chicken Little, the sky is falling. This is let’s live with COVID. Let’s not scare people, let’s educate people.”
He said the Government should now do all it can to ramp up the booster programme.
“Omicron is going through the community right now so people who are not vaccinated or even people who are vaccinated whose levels have dropped off – many of them are getting infected.
“Omicron is actually vaccinating people by natural infection. So, I do think boosters are important. We should be ramping up boosters. We should have been boosting people on Christmas Day, the day after and the day after.”
People aged in their 30s can register for a booster on the HSE portal from today.
The jabs will be available to people over the age of 30 at HSE vaccination centres and pharmacies.
People aged 16 to 29 who received Janssen in their original vaccine programme are also now eligible at vaccine centres, with ‘bespoke clinics’ due to be held for the cohort from next week.
Everyone over the age of 16 can attend vaccine clinics from January 10th.
GPs have been offering boosters to everyone over the age of 16 since December 16th.
Appointments for children can be made through the HSE portal or by calling 1800 700 700.