- Government approves additional measures to reduce levels of social contact and interrupt the spread of COVID-19
- Vaccine Booster approved for over 50s
The COVID-19 situation in Ireland is uncertain and of concern. We remain vulnerable to a further deterioration depending on a number of factors, including levels of social contact, adherence to basic public health protective measures, and levels of immunity across the population.
The current level of COVID-19 is having a significant and sustained impact across all aspects of the health service, including in hospitals, Intensive Care Units (ICUs), public health, testing and tracing services, general practice, as well as the broader primary care services.
Today, following public health advice, Government has agreed a range of measures aimed at interrupting the spread of COVID-19 in the community:
- With effect from midnight Thursday 18th November:
- Everyone should revert to working from home unless it is necessary to attend the workplace in person;
- Statutory requirement for COVID-19 passes (based on vaccination or recovery) will be extended to cinemas and theatres (which many are already applying to allow for greater capacity); and
- Closing times for all on-licensed premises (save for hotels regarding staying guests) will move to midnight with all customers vacated from the premises by that time.
- Household close contacts who are fully vaccinated and asymptomatic should restrict their movements pending completion of recommended antigen testing (i.e. 5 days).
Vaccine Booster Programme
Booster vaccinations are currently being administered to those aged over 60 in the community and residents in long-term care facilities, the immunocompromised, and healthcare workers. The Health Service Executive (HSE) is already planning to expand capacity further through both the pharmacy sector and vaccination centres over the coming weeks, and will now plan a further ramp-up of the delivery programme in the coming days in line with the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) advice received last night to extend the programme to those aged 16-59 with underlying conditions and to those aged 50 to 59.
Vaccination remains the single most effective protection against COVID-19 and always remains available for anyone who has not yet been vaccinated. Vaccines are proving highly effective in preventing deaths and serious illness from COVID-19.
In contrast, this week, the HSE said 40% of people in hospitals are unvaccinated although they constitute just 7% of the adult population. The unvaccinated constitute 52% of admissions to ICU and the partially vaccinated another 5%.
While the high uptake of vaccination is having a considerable positive impact on the conversion of case numbers into admissions to hospital and ICU, vaccination alone will not prevent transmission and the range of public health behaviours will continue to be a critical component of the collective response to COVID-19.
These behaviours include:
- acting fast, isolating and getting tested if we have symptoms;
- wearing our face coverings where appropriate (https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/aac74c-guidance-on-safe-use-of-face-coverings/);
- making sure that indoor spaces are well ventilated;
- maintaining adequate social distancing whenever appropriate; and
- covering our coughs and sneezes and keeping our hands clean.
To protect ourselves and the most vulnerable in our communities, we should also:
- prioritise the activities we undertake;
- limit our activities in riskier environments (indoor, crowded environments, where distancing is difficult);
- take regular antigen tests if we are asymptomatic and engaged in activities in riskier environments; and
- hold off on visiting vulnerable people after undertaking these activities.
People in age groups approved for booster shots should take up their vaccine appointment as a priority when offered it and exercise particular caution until they receive their booster dose.
Working from Home
Following today’s decisions, engagement has taken place with employers and trade unions, through the Labour Employer Economic Forum, on updating guidance on working from home unless necessary to attend in person, as well as strengthening communication on protective measures, as outlined in the Work Safely Protocol, for those who continue to attend workplaces.
The Government continues to offer a range of economic supports to assist businesses and individuals impacted by the pandemic as set out in the Economic Recovery Plan, which are amongst the most extensive direct supports offered within the EU. They include the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (with expenditure to date of over €5.4bn), tax warehousing, a targeted commercial rates waiver, along with low-cost loan schemes to businesses, such as the COVID-19 Credit Guarantee Scheme, mentoring programmes, and direct grant programmes. A range of sectoral supports also remain in place and, through the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, the Gaeltacht, Sports and the Media, the Government remains in ongoing contact with the hospitality and entertainment sectors on the challenges they face due to COVID-19.
There will be no change in current arrangements for student attendance and on-site activities in school, further and higher education institutions in line with COVID response plans for those sectors.
Work is continuing with agencies and inspectorates, including through the Regulators’ Forum, to build upon efforts to date and to strengthen compliance and inspection activities. The effectiveness of this compliance activity also relies critically on overall public attitudes and support from the relevant business sectors.
Note to Editors
The Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) will issue further guidance on derogations for Health Care Workers in respect of restricted movement requirements for those who are household close contacts.
Some groups including older people may be more at risk of serious illness from COVID-19, even if they are already vaccinated. This may be because:
- their immune system does not respond as strongly to vaccination.
- the protection from the vaccination may weaken with time.
- they may be more at risk of catching COVID-19 with society opening up.
- the more infectious Delta variant of COVID-19 is spreading.
- they may have medical conditions that put them more at risk of severe infection from COVID-19.
On that basis, the European Medicines Agency has approved an additional dose of the vaccine and the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC), in Ireland, has also recommended that vaccine boosters be provided to the following groups:
- Those aged over 60 in the community;
- Residents in long-term care facilities;
- Healthcare workers;
- Those aged over 50 in the community; and
- Those aged 16-59 with underlying conditions.
Those in approved cohorts become eligible for a booster 5 months after the have been fully vaccinated i.e. after second dose of a two-dose vaccine.
As a general rule, the HSE will be contacting those eligible in line with the approval sequence from NIAC and the individual vaccine schedules of the eligible cohort.
Antigen testing for close contacts
The HSE advise that you should do 3 antigen tests in total. You can do them at any time of the day.
You should do your 3 antigen tests in this order:
- First test on the day you get your tests.
- Second test 2 days after your first test.
- Third test 2 days after your second test.