Public transport will return to full capacity from next Wednesday to accommodate the return of students to schools and colleges and as more work places start to reopen, the Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan said on Sunday.
Mr Ryan told The Irish Times the resumption of full public transport services would resume following agreement by the Cabinet at its meeting on Tuesday, as part of a broader easing of the remaining Covid-19 restrictions.
Additionally, it was confirmed on Sunday that a further 1,706 new cases of Covid-19 have been reported as of midnight on Saturday, the Department of Health said.
Covid developments this weekend
- Cabinet to decide on Tuesday on lifting restrictions
- Future role of Nphet is to be examined
- Schools ‘not major source of transmission’ – Holohan
- Walk-in vaccination clinics operating this weekend
- Delta twice as likely to lead to hospitalisation
In a statement on Sunday, Dr Tony Holohan, chief medical officer, said schools were “not a major source of disease transmission,” as many reopened in recent and coming days.
Preparations for children to return to classrooms were happening “at a time when our country is experiencing a very high incidence of Covid-19,” he said.
When schools reopened previously it did not have a significant effect on the rates of the virus among children, he said. “In fact, any increase in incidence among children is often linked to the events that occur around school as much as the events that occur within school,” he said.
“It is important that we continue to socialise safely and continue to adhere to the public health measures,” he said.
Dr Holohan appealed to parents to not send children to school if they had any of the symptoms of Covid-19, such as cough, fever, headache, sore throat, or a blocked or runny nose.
“If your child displays any of these symptoms, support them to isolate and contact your GP for advice and to arrange a test if appropriate. These measures will prevent transmission of the virus to others,” he said.
In a tweet on Saturday afternoon, the Department of Health said 347 patients were currently in hospital being treated for the virus and 60 patients were in intensive care.
Nine out of ten adults would likely be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 by mid-September, with the same level of over 16s fully vaccinated roughly two weeks later, Paul Reid said.
Speaking to The Irish Times, Mr Reid said at present “bang on” 88 per cent of adults were fully inoculated, while 92 per cent were partially vaccinated, awaiting a second dose.
Mr Reid said health officials expect to reach the key milestone of fully vaccinating 90 per cent of adults during the week starting September 13th.
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Based on the current pace of the rollout, over 90 per cent of over 16s would likely be vaccinated either by the end of September, or early October, he said.
In recent days, the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) wrote to Government to advise more than 90 per cent of people over the age of 16 should be fully vaccinated before the next phase of easing Covid-19 restrictions is considered.
Mr Reid said the health service had been working towards the target of vaccinating 90 per cent of adults. He noted the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) measured vaccination rates based on the uptake among those aged 18 and above.
The number of vaccinations between the full inoculation of 90 per cent of adults, and the same level among the over 16s was a “marginal number,” he said. “You could be waiting and waiting . . . but it’s a small number” of people, Mr Reid said.
There was a “lag” in the speed of the uptake for vaccines among younger groups, such as the 16- and 17-year-olds, he said. “Since we’ve gone down into the under-30s there has been a lag – it gets there, it just takes a bit more time,” Mr Reid said.
Public transport capacity
Mr Ryan told RTÉ Radio’s This Week that public transport would return to full capacity next week – up from the current levels of 75 per cent capacity – and that Churches would be allowed to resume holding Holy Communions and Confirmations “very quickly” in September.
“We are unwinding restrictions stage by stage, bringing sectors back to life, and doing it in a way so it doesn’t reverse, so we’ll really maintain the approach that has worked,” he said.
One of the most “significant” features of the next reopening would be the return to offices, and employers would be given flexibility to manage the process, he said.
The country was still in a “risky position” due to high case numbers, so people and organisations would have to take personal responsibility during the next phase of the pandemic.
This would include premises ensuring good ventilation, people wearing masks and people leaving indoor settings if they became crowded, he said.
Discussions around attempts to hold the Electric Picnic music festival were ongoing, but the matter was “complicated because of planning”, and had not been resolved, Mr Ryan said.
The mandatory hotel quarantine system would be maintained, and it could be “ramped up” again in the future, if a new variant of concern emerged, the Minister said.
“Covid is not going to go away, it seems, and the idea that we could completely eradicate it seems increasingly unlikely and difficult, globally,” he said.
The winding down of Nphet was “not on the agenda at the moment,” Mr Ryan said. However, there was a need to “move away from the emergency measures,” in the medium to long term and increase investment in standing public health teams in the Department of Health, he said.
The Cabinet Covid-19 sub-committee is set to meet on Monday to continue discussions over a plan to reopen several sectors, such as the arts and live entertainment.
The sub-committee meeting is expected to set out a roadmap for the planned easing of remaining restrictions in a number of areas and sectors, and this would then be signed off by Cabinet on Tuesday.
In recent days Government figures have suggested September 20th will be a key date for the unwinding of several existing restrictions and measures.
Ministers are to meet the Event Industry Alliance on Monday morning, where arts and live entertainment groups will push for an early reopening of the sector.
Dan MacDonnell, a spokesman for the industry group, said it would be “pleading” with the Government not to “compound the hardship suffered by the sector for nearly 18 months”.
Mr MacDonnell said the group would be pushing for an early September reopening date to allow the fully vaccinated attend full-capacity events, both indoors and outdoors.
Separately, Niamh O’Beirne, HSE national lead for testing and tracing, has said the positivity rate of 15- to 24-year-olds referred for Covid-19 tests had decreased recently.
The portion of the cohort testing positive for the virus had dropped from around 22 per cent down to 18 per cent and was continuing to fall, she said.
There were 330 patients in hospitals with Covid-19 on Saturday evening, with 61 in intensive care.