The Minister for Health has said Ireland will be able to safely sustain higher levels of coronavirus in the community when the most vulnerable people are vaccinated.
Stephen Donnelly was speaking as Ireland continues to report its highest daily figures since the pandemic began.
Earlier today, the HSE Chief Executive Paul Reid confirmed the health service would be cutting back on non-urgent care in hospitals amid the “frightening” increase in the virus.
On The Hard Shoulder this evening, Minister Donnelly said the situation the country is now facing is “really, really serious” and said it is “really important” that everyone stays at home as much as possible.
He confirmed however, that the vaccination target for this week has increased from 20,000 to 35,000 people – with a “big push” among frontline healthcare workers and nursing homes.
He said that once the most at-risk groups have been vaccinated, we need to have a “serious conversation” about allowing higher levels of the virus in the community.
“This all has to be worked through,” he said. “It is early days but my view is that once you vaccinate and protect people who could die from this and you protect our frontline healthcare workers and let’s say our teachers and some of the other groups, then I think we need to start having a serious conversation and saying well look, the risk profile now is reduced and can we afford to have a higher level of cases in the community?
“That is obviously a conversation the public health teams need to look at very, very closely.”
Minister Donnelly said the priority over the coming weeks is to “protect life, protect the health system, protect education and protect jobs.”
Minster Donnelly also confirmed that a decision on whether to reopen schools next week will be announced on Wednesday.
The Teacher’s Union of Ireland has backed calls for schools to remain closed until January 18th due to the surge in the virus.
Minister Donnelly said the Cabinet sub-committee on COVID would meet tomorrow morning to discuss the issue ahead of a full Cabinet meeting on Wednesday.
“These are big calls and they have a big impact on people’s lives,” he said.
“I am a dad and I have got three young kids in primary school myself and I understand that parents need to know; teachers and principals need to know.
“What we are doing is, we are giving our experts the time they need to examine the very latest evidence and then, on Wednesday morning we will make a decision based on the latest advice.”