DUBLIN, Jan 16 —The number of coronavirus patients in Irish hospitals fell week-on-week for the first time since the Omicron variant drove cases to record highs last month, adding to confidence that restrictions will begin to be lifted shortly.

Ministers have said this week that they are increasingly confident of being able to end curbs introduced mainly on the hospitality and entertainment industry and that they will be guided by whether or not pressure on hospitals eases.

There were 965 Covid -19 patients in hospital on Sunday, down on 984 a week ago and an Omicron peak of 1,063 last Monday, the health department said. The numbers in hospital reached a pandemic high of just over 2,000 a year ago during Ireland’s deadliest wave.

Hospitalisations tend to rise faster over weekends during waves of the disease in Ireland as more discharges occur on weekdays.

The proportion of patients requiring critical care has been stable throughout the Omicron wave and stood at 88 on Sunday compared to a barely manageable 221 this time last year. Case numbers have also been falling over the last week, health department data shows.

“I’m very keen to see the reopening happen at an ambitious pace over the next few weeks,” Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar told national broadcaster RTE ahead of a meeting of public health officials on Jan. 20 to recommend the next move.

The government shut nightclubs and cut capacity at indoor events in early December before widening the constraints on crowds and ordering bars and restaurants to close at 8 p.m. two weeks later.

Varadkar reiterated that restrictions would likely be eased on a phased basis. Previously the government has lifted the most recently imposed curbs first and further reopened the economy every two to three weeks. — Reuters