The link between daily case rates and hospitalisations has been “severely weakened” by the vaccine rollout, the Tánaiste has told Newstalk Breakfast.
Daily case rates are expected to rise in the coming weeks as the Delta variant tightens its hold in Ireland.
The Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan last night urged people to “do as much as possible to control the spread of the disease” as officials announced the highest daily total in two and a half months.
Meanwhile, the vaccine rollout is continuing to gather speed, with two million people now fully vaccinated and 70% of adults having received their first dose.
Speaking to Ciara Kelly this morning, Leo Varadkar said cases are a “poor metric” for judging how well Ireland is doing against the disease.
“What we know now, because of the vaccine programme, is the link between cases and hospitalisation and deaths is weakened,” he said.
“It is not broken or abolished but it is significantly weakened.
“For example, if you take the Alpha (UK) variant before, about 2% of people would have died as a result of Alpha.
“For Delta, it is actually closer to 0.2% or 0.3%. That is not because it is less severe - it is not less severe - that is because of the vaccine programme.”
He noted that any surge in cases in the coming weeks will not have the same impact as it would have in previous waves.
“So, 1,000 cases a day or 2,000 a day over the next few weeks which will alarm people is totally different to 1,000 or 2,000 cases a day back in January or February,” he said.
“The worry of course is that we may go much higher than that and, if we went up to something like 8,000, 9,000 or 10,000 cases a day, even a small percentage of a very big number is a big number.
“So, we have to keep a close eye on hospitalisations which are now rising slightly and also on the numbers in ICU.
“We are also looking to countries that are ahead us in this wave, like Scotland, and also places that are ahead of us on vaccination, like Israel. There are messages from there but there is still a lot of uncertainty unfortunately.”
Government officials are again meeting representatives from the hospitality industry today to discuss ways to reopen indoor dining on July 19th.
Minister Varadkar said they hope to be in a position to bring proposals to Cabinet next Tuesday.
He said reopening will be “along the lines that NPHET recommended” – meaning only those who are fully vaccinated or recently recovered from COVID will be allowed to eat indoors.
Ireland is the only country in the EU without indoor dining. Even in countries that have a so-called ‘corona pass’ system in place, people are permitted to dine indoors if they sit a negative antigen test.
Two million people are now fully vaccinated - and 70% of adults have received at least one #CovidVaccine dose.
Brilliant effort by all the @HSELive staff and volunteers involved in our rollout
— Micheál Martin (@MichealMartinTD) July 8, 2021
Minister Varadkar said the use of testing is being considered but suggested it won't be in place in time for July 19th.
“That would be a departure from public health advice and NPHET advice so we would be loath to do that right away,” he said. “But it is an option that is under consideration.”
“I would bear in mind that we are really powering through the vaccine programme now. One of the advantages of the pause for a few weeks is that we are getting so many people vaccinated and the number of people who aren’t vaccinated or don’t have the opportunity to get vaccinated is now diminishing.
“Whatever you think about PCR or antigen testing, nobody will tell you that a test is better than immunity – it is not.”
EU Digital COVID Certificate
Minister Varadkar said Ireland will roll out the EU Digital COVID Certificate as planned on July 19th and said that may also play a role in reopening hospitality.
The pass, which allows people to travel anywhere in the EU once they are fully vaccinated, fully recovered from COVID or undergo a negative COVID test, was officially rolled in every member state except Ireland last Thursday.
“It can be used both practically and legally as evidence that you are vaccinated or you are immune,” he said.
“One of the questions we are examining at the moment is should we allow people to produce other forms of evidence as well.
“One thing people get when they get a vaccine is that little card that has your vaccine details written on it. We probably won’t use that – it is too easily forged quite frankly but perhaps there will be other things we could use as well.”
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