Just 80 people are in the State’s hospitals with Covid-19 and there are “brighter days” ahead, HSE chief executive Paul Reid has said.
In a Twitter post on Thursday morning, Mr Reid said Ireland had come “a long way from the dark days of January” when more than 2,000 people were hospitalised with Covid-19 and 200 were in intensive care (ICU).
There are now 34 people in ICU and the total number hospitalised has fallen from the 93 reported on Wednesday.
“We can’t ever go back there. Brighter days ahead. Let’s keep winning hearts & minds and people’s committment [sic]. Its what works,” Mr Reid said.
The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) yesterday reported a further 407 cases of Covid-19. Some 81 per cent of cases were among people aged under 45 years, with just 2 per cent in those aged 65 and over.
With 5,811 cases detected over the past fortnight, the 14-day incidence of the disease now stands at 122 cases per 100,000 people.
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said people who have had Covid-19 are now presumed to have immunity for nine months. This period may be further increased from the previous six-month period to 12 months later this year.
The reproduction number, a measure of how many other people a case infects, now stands at “just below 1,” according to Prof Philip Nolan, chair of the Nphet epidemiological modelling advisory group.
Prof Nolan said the situation was stable and the outlook is positive thanks to the effect of vaccination. An average of 11,500 tests a day are being carried out, yielding a positivity rate of 3.7 per cent.
However, unvaccinated people in particular needed to be careful and people generally need to keep their close contacts low over the coming weeks.
Dr Nolan pointed out that about 70 per cent of the population remains at risk of infection from the virus, but vaccination was cutting this by 5 per cent a week. Arguing against a faster easing of restrictions, he said Nphet was following a “carefully calibrated” process of keeping variants out while people were being vaccinated.
The number of cases of the delta variant first identified in India sequenced in the Republic has increased from 97 last week to 115, according to Dr Cillian de Gascun, director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory.
Dr de Gascun said the data was reassuring but vigilance was still required to ensure no superspreader event occurred.
Three cases of the variant have been identified in mandatory hotel quarantine in the past 10 days, officials said. Most Irish cases have been found in and around Dublin, while a cluster of the related kappa variant has been identified in the south-west.
Cloud on horizon
The delta variant remains “a cloud on the horizon,” according to Dr Holohan, who has advised the HSE it will be able to reduce the gap between the first and second doses of AstraZeneca vaccine from 12 weeks to eight weeks.
The advice is contained in a letter he sent on foot of a fresh recommendation from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac). The HSE will now consider the advice and its possible implication in the overall Covid-19 vaccine rollout.
If it reduces the gap, many people who were given a first dose of AstraZeneca will get the second dose at least four weeks earlier.
UK studies have shown that the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines are only 33 per cent effective in protecting against infection by the delta variant first identified in India, but that effectiveness rises to more than 88 per cent after two doses of Pfizer and 60 per cent for AstraZeneca.
Dr Holohan also stood over his criticisms of crowds gathering to socialise in Dublin city centre last weekend.
“If you get a large crowd in a small area, in close physical contact, that will present opportunities for transmission,” he told yesterday’s Nphet briefing.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin last night said better facilities should be provided for people outdoors and that streets should be redesigned.
Local authorities around the country will be asked to put extra bins and toilets on city streets after a backlash following on-street drinking and congregation last weekend.
Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien confirmed that his department has recently met the County and City Management Agency (CCMA) on the issue of littering.
A spokeswoman for Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan said a €5 million fund had been established from which councils can claim refunds for work done. There have been more than 40 applications to the Department of Transport for a €15 million fund for pedestrianisation, traffic management and road space reallocation.