The recent rise in Covid infections is a “warning shot”, the Minister for Foreign Affairs has said, amid increasing doubt within Government on plans to remove almost all restrictions in just over a week’s time.

The Cabinet is due to evaluate advice from public health officials next week to decide if remaining restrictions can be eased on October 22nd as planned.

“Sometimes Government has to make the right decision even if it is unpopular,” Simon Coveney told Newstalk radio.

Senior officials and political aides were on Wednesday briefed by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) that the path of infection had taken an unexpected negative turn, and that all key indicators of the disease were now performing badly.

The removal of social distancing guidelines, which would open up capacity in the bar and restaurant sector, and the reopening of nightclubs, are among the final restrictions scheduled to be lifted.

Mr Coveney said it was possible that certain restrictions would not be lifted, but that any decision would be on the basis of advice from public health experts and the available data.

“I think the Government will be slow to move away from the plan that we outlined many weeks ago. But I think this is essentially a warning shot, that there is still a significant level of Covid infection in society in Ireland,” he said.

“We can’t just ignore something because it’s not popular,” he added.

Nobody in the Government wanted to move from the plan for the easing of restrictions, but there was a responsibility to listen to the science and the experts, he said.

Vaccine certificates

Earlier, immunology expert Professor Christine Loscher said the easing of restrictions should go ahead on October 22nd, but that vaccine certificates should be retained as a mitigating measure.

Keeping the existing rules on using vaccine certificates for entry to indoor venues will minimise the impact of the opening up of society, she told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

Case numbers had increased in recent weeks, she said, as people began to behave differently in anticipation of the lifting of further restrictions on October 22nd.

Prof Loscher said measures such as mask wearing should be maintained as she had noticed a decrease in their use recently.

“We need to accept that people get sicker in winter in general. They are mixing indoors in closed environments. That’s to be expected,” she said.

Vaccines had provided a wall of protection which meant even if people contracted Covid they would have mild symptoms and not require hospitalisation.

The experience in countries like New Zealand had shown that zero Covid was not possible, but if the vaccination campaign continued “at some stage it will level off.”

Ripple of anxiety

Meanwhile, the Covid lead for the Irish College of General Practitioners, Dr Mary Favier, said the rising number of Covid cases had caused “a ripple of anxiety” for GPs as non-Covid care had been “displaced”.

GPs have noticed “a slow rise” in cases in recent weeks, she told Newstalk. This has led to more hospitalisations and more Covid patients in ICU beds “displacing” non Covid patients.

This was against a background of the good vaccination levels which was a concern for hospital capacity and treatment for non-Covid patients.

Dr Favier pointed out that Kerry University Hospital had been “turning patients away” because there were no beds available.

“This is déjà vu. It’s all about hospital capacity,” she said.

It was difficult to understand what was happening, she said. “There must be something in our behaviour, how we’re acting,” as Ireland’s cases were far higher than other European countries.

Ireland

Full easing of restrictions in doubt as Covid numb…

“We are victims of our next door neighbour. There is a UK factor,” she added.

There were still “a good few” people who were not vaccinated and they were the ones who were getting sick and ending up in hospital and in ICU, warned Dr Favier. She was particularly concerned about the unvaccinated over-50s and encouraged them to get vaccinated.

Nphet is to meet next Monday before giving advice to Government. Further advice on booster shots is also expected in the coming days.

Meanwhile, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly is self-isolating after showing mild symptoms of Covid-19, although in a test the virus was “not detected”, his department said.