Taoiseach Says Government Not Issuing Mask Mandate Even As Health System Crumbles Under ‘Virus Storm’

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The Taoiseach says the Government will NOT be introducing a mask mandate in the near future. This week saw Chief Medical Officer Professor Breda Smyth warn that Ireland is in the eye of a respiratory virus storm as Christmas approaches.

However he said that Government is encouraging people to wear face masks in crowded settings, particularly on public transport.

Leo Varadkar also appealed to people with respiratory symptoms to remain at home and for people to avail of flu and Covid-19 vaccines.

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The Taoiseach will ask senior officials from the Health Service Executive to utilise all available resources immediately to alleviate pressure on hospitals. Such resources may include the use of private hospitals and overtime. He is meeting HSE managers and Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly later today.

The health service had seen significant increases in staff and bed capacity in recent years, he said, however he acknowledged that it was facing a difficult winter, particularly over the months of January, February and March.

Mr Varadkar told reporters this morning that there were a number of factors behind the high attendance levels. These included an ageing population and the presence of three viruses; Covid, flu and RSV.

He rejected criticism that the Government had not prepared for this crisis. Mr Varadkar said that there are currently no proposals to reintroduce a mask mandate, however he said that Government is encouraging people to wear face masks in crowded settings, particularly on public transport.

He appealed to people with respiratory symptoms to remain at home and for people to avail of flu and Covid-19 vaccines.

The HSE has an increased budget for next year, which has not yet been spent, Mr Varadkar said.

He added this could be used to deploy resources to alleviate pressure this winter to “minimise suffering and inconvenience for patients“.

However, he added that people working in the health service know that it is “never just a matter of money“, and that strong management, good clinical leadership and adequate resources need to be in place.

The HSE is expecting a surge in winter virus infections in the weeks ahead that will bring the highest pressure on the State’s health service it has ever seen.

HSE Chief Executive Stephen Mulvany said there are currently around 1,200 people hospitalised with Covid-19 and other respiratory conditions – The latest figures show 657 people in hospital with Covid-19, 26 of whom are in ICU.