The State passed 1 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 since the beginning of the pandemic on Monday while Taoiseach Micheál Martin ruled out the introduction of mandatory vaccination against the virus.
The Department of Health reported 23,909 new cases bringing the total to 1,002,013 since February 2020.
As of 8am on Monday, there were 1,063 patients in the country’s hospitals with the virus, with 89 of those in intensive care.
Mr Martin’s earlier comments to reporters in Cork on Monday afternoon follow reports that the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) is to consider the issue, with a new paper being prepared by the Department of Health on the legal and ethical aspects of such a move.
Mr Martin said that while Nphet could “examine every issue”, Ireland had a very high rate of vaccination through a voluntary system, and that would be continued.
“I have been very clear in that I favour the voluntary approach to vaccination. In fact, we have done extraordinarily well as a country. There is a 94 per cent vaccination rate for the first and second doses,” Mr Martin said.
“There is a 63 per cent rate for the booster. I think that speaks volumes for informing the public of the benefits of vaccination and also the robust debate that has taken place with strong medical and public health contributions – not just from officialdom but from those within the academic world, those involved in medicine who have been very, very clear about the benefits of vaccination,” Mr Martin said.
On Monday morning The Irish Times reported that Nphet minutes said that the issue would be discussed once the Department of Health had produced a paper on the issue.
However, Mr Martin made his own position clear in his comments on Tuesday. “I favour the voluntary. I fully respect that people will explore all issues and research them. But from my perspective we have achieved one of the highest rates (of vaccination) in the world through a voluntary system. That is the system that we will maintain.”
Earlier, senior Government sources strongly pushed back against the suggestions of mandatory vaccinations.
“This will never be on the table for the Government,” said one high-ranking source.
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Other sources agreed that with among the highest vaccination rates in the world, the voluntary approach was already working well in Ireland. “Why would we even consider this?”
Among other EU countries, Austria has announced it will introduce mandatory vaccination, while the measure is also under consideration in Germany.
Mr Martin also said that he was confident that further restrictions could be avoided.
‘Twists and turns’
“I am. That said, we want to give it another week or two. We haven’t peaked yet. Covid has had many twists and turns, but I am confident that if we maintain the same focus we can get through the wave.”
The Taoiseach admitted that was very conscious of the impact of the 8pm closure on the hospitality sector. However, he said he does not foresee any immediate easing of the 8pm cut off times.
Meanwhile, Mr Martin also said that the latest Covid wave is not expected to peak for at least another seven days or even a fortnight, later than ministers had anticipated last week.
“The experts are saying to us that it could be a week to two weeks yet before the peak comes.
“You would’ve heard Paul Reid saying this morning that certainly with the admissions to hospitals they see no signs of the peak yet and that’s the general view from public health advice.
“And I spoke to the CMO on this recently, and again, he is of the view that it could be a week, it could be two weeks before we see the peak of this yet.”
He acknowledged that it was a cause of concern that over a thousand people are now in hospital with Covid and also repeated his calls to unvaccinated cohorts of the population to attend for jabs.
“And again I would say to you that is vital that people get vaccinated.
“There are still people out there who could get vaccinated and who haven’t got the booster yet.
“It is very, very important that they get the booster – that’s the key measure that people can take to prevent themselves from being hospitalised or being admitted to ICU.”
He added that he fully respected and understood the pressures that many different sectors of the economy are under but emphasised that we need to “keep the pressure on the virus.”
“We have to ensure that it does not spread too widely, too quickly.”
Also on Monday, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan encouraged parents and their children to avail of the Covid-19 vaccination programme.
“Getting your child vaccinated is a decision between you and your child,” he said in a statement.
“I would encourage all parents and guardians to discuss this update to our vaccination programme with your child and ensure that they are aware that vaccination is available to them.”
“Most children will experience a very mild form of this disease, for a small few, they may become severely ill. The COVID-19 vaccines are doing an excellent job of preventing severe illness and disease in those who are fully vaccinated.”