The number of people infected with Covid-19 and in hospital with the virus has started to rise again, the latest update from the Department of Health shows.
The increase is probably due to more mixing in society rather than a rise in new, more transmissible variants, according to interim chief medical officer Prof Breda Smyth.
“Noting that national Sars-CoV-2 testing guidance may influence trends, the number of infections detected and reported daily has slightly increased. PCR testing volumes have remained stable while test positivity has slightly increased. A significant proportion of detected infections continues to be identified in older age groups,” Prof Smyth says in her report.
Trends in Ireland are similar to those in other European countries, which have been a rise in cases in recent weeks, particularly among over-65s.
The increase in cases is not unexpected given the return of schools and the change of season, but health officials are worried that even a modest resurgence of the virus, combined with a flu wave, could put the health service under enormous strain.
PCR confirmed cases grew 3 per cent in the week to September 20th, while the number of positive antigen tests was up 7 per cent the previous week.
There was a 20 per cent increase in the number of people hospitalised with Covid-19 to September 20th, and numbers have continued to rise. On Thursday, there were 331 people with the virus in hospital, compared with 236 a fortnight earlier.
However, the number of Covid-19 patients in critical care has remained stable, as has the number of deaths. In addition, the amount of virus showing up in wastewater surveillance is decreasing slightly, Prof Smyth notes.
“In summary, the overall epidemiological situation in Ireland indicates high levels of infection and a slight increase in cases receiving general hospital care over recent days,” Prof Smyth says.
Most of those hospitalised for Covid-19 who are aged 65 or over have not received a second booster dose, she points out. “The uptake of second booster vaccine in this population is suboptimal currently and it is strongly recommended that individuals in this age group avail of this dose if they have not yet done so.”
Of the Covid-19 cases in hospital, 57 per cent have no symptoms while 43 per cent were hospitalised because of the virus. Some 27 per cent were not fully vaccinated.
Covid-19 was the main reason for admission for half of those testing positive in ICU. All ICU cases were vaccinated.
There continues to be a significant number of hospital-acquired infections; 72 in the week to September 11th, down from 54 the previous week.
There have been 7,922 Covid-19 related deaths since the start of the pandemic, including 85 in August and 183 in July.
Thirty-five new outbreaks were notified, down slightly on the previous week. These included eight new outbreaks in nursing homes and 10 in hospitals.
BA.5, a form of the Omicron variant, remains dominant in Ireland. Omicron has given rise to hundreds of subvariants, some of which are beginning to cause concern in other countries. The World Health Organisation says all of these lineages have different additional mutations, but the majority do not warrant concern. The new variants under scrutiny include BA4.6, BF.7, BA.2.75.2 and BQ. 1.1 and are all varieties of Omicron.