Four counties are being considered for further restrictions, Health Minister confirms

The Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has confirmed that there are currently four counties being monitored closely as their incidence rates continue to rise.

ork, Galway, Louth and Wicklow are all under consideration for further restrictions as case numbers rise, but Minister Donnelly told RTÉ that no immediate action was required.

“There are four counties which I think are being looked at very carefully, they are Cork, Galway, Louth and my own county of Wicklow,” he said.

“But right now, there are no plans for NPHET to meet earlier, to make any recommendations to the Government at this time.

“They meet every Thursday, that may change, but right now they have no plans to meet.

“What happens in each case is the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) look at a wide variety of measures,” he said.

Mr Donnelly said “we’ll leave it to the experts” with respect to deciding which, if any, counties will have further restrictions imposed.

Dublin and Donegal are currently at Level 3 in the Government’s medium-term Living with Covid plan in an attempt to stem the flow of cases.

Donegal recently overtook Dublin as the county with the highest incidence rate in the country with 148, while neighbouring Derry has the highest rate in Northern Ireland.

Minister Donnelly also said that Christmas as Ireland knows it would be highly infringed upon this year, especially for those with relatives living in residential care homes and nursing homes.

“It is heartbreaking. It’s heartbreaking for the residents, and heartbreaking for the relatives, heartbreaking for the staff who are dealing with this every single day. We had so many cases of people standing on their tiptoes looking in windows, and other relatives were very sick and in some cases died.

“So, what I really love to see is this virus suppressed, to the point that the most liberal visiting regime that we could have safely is brought in,” the Minister said.

Mr Donnelly urged people to reduce their contacts in a bid to push down the reproduction ‘R’ number, which refers to the number of people that one infected person will pass on the virus to on average.

“When it is above 1, the virus is growing, when it is below 1, the virus is shrinking and we need to get the R number below 1. Right now, it’s about 1.5, 1.6 and what the public health doctors are saying to us is, ‘think about all the people you were planning on meeting over the next week or two and half that number.’

“If we all do that, it’s not always possible, but if we do that, if we all reduce our contacts, then we will get this R number down and we will push this virus back.

“What everybody wants is to get every part of this country back down to Level 1 as quickly as possible and keep everybody there. The whole point of the roadmap is to target the virus where we know it spreads in order to keep the country open, to keep the schools open, protect the health services, protect jobs,” he said in an interview today on This Week on RTÉ One.

In relation to a shortage of hospital beds as the health services gear up for an increase in admissions this winter, he said that the HSE is negotiating with each private hospital, instead of the previous joint agreement that was in place.

“We are looking for surge capacity, if a wave happens,” he said.

In addition, the health sector is looking for additional capacity to treat public patients in the private hospitals, to tackle waiting lists.

Separately, he revealed that about half of the expected flu vaccine stocks have now arrived.

“There was a batch of vaccines for which there was a two week delay.”

Mr Donnelly said 2m vaccines will be provided for free to the groups who have been identified as at-risk groups. This year, for the first time the under-12s will be included for free, and they will receive a nasal spray rather than an injection.

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