Leo Varadkar said that Ireland is “without doubt” experiencing a fourth wave of Covid infections, with case numbers potentially peaking at the 4,000 mark over the coming weeks.
He added that the case fatality rate of the Delta variant, currently dominant in Ireland, is one tenth what it was for the previously-dominant Alpha variant due to the vaccine programme.
“I think without doubt we are now well into a fourth wave, a Delta wave of infections,” he said on Wednesday.
“Nobody knows for sure how that will turn out, how long the wave will last or when it will peak.
“I suppose we are taking the optimistic view that we will take a similar course to Scotland, maybe peak around 3,000 to 4,000 cases over the next few weeks and then fall back and not see hospitalisations rise much above 500, ICU not much above 50.
“But we can’t know that for sure and that is why we need to be quite cautious in the next couple of weeks.”
There were 96 people hospitalised with the virus as of this morning, with 22 patients in intensive care.
Mr Varadkar said the Delta wave of Covid infections is “serious” but the situation is different to previous waves due to the vaccine programme.
“This wave is serious and we need to ramp up the vaccination programme and that is what we are doing,” he said.
“We need to make sure we continue to improve test, trace and isolate, and that is what we are doing with antigen testing coming on board in the next week or so, we’ll be testing more people than ever before in the pandemic.
“We need to take this seriously, it is serious, but it is different because of the vaccination programme. The case fatality rate for Delta is one tenth what it was for Alpha because of the vaccine programme.
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“When it comes to deaths, 2,000 cases a day is more like 200 cases a day back in January. I think we will follow a similar course to other countries which are ahead of us in the Delta wave, Netherlands, Portugal, Israel.
“We could see hospitalisations in the hundreds – if that is the case that is manageable.”
Mr Varadkar also reiterated that indoor dining will resume on Monday for people who can show evidence of immunity, but said any further reopening was unlikely in the short-term due to the Delta variant.
Over 65 per cent of the adult population is fully vaccinated and 75 per cent have received a first dose, deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said, while anyone aged 18 or older can now register online for a Covid-19 vaccine.