Coronavirus: 2,121 further cases and eight more deaths reported
Some 81 reports of ‘relatively mild’ suspected side effects linked to vaccine reported to medical regulators
People walk along an almost deserted Grafton Street in Dublin city centre on Monday. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
A further eight deaths of Covid-19 patients were reported by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) on Monday, all of which occurred in January. This brings to 2,616 the total number of deaths in the pandemic.
Nphet also reported 2,121 confirmed cases of the disease, bringing to 174,843 the total number of cases in the Republic.
The median age of the newly-reported deaths is 85 years and the age range is 49 to 93.
Of the new cases, 753 are in Dublin, 236 in Cork, 142 in Wexford, 126 in Kildare, 109 in Limerick with the remaining 755 spread across all other counties.
The 14-day incidence of the disease now stands at 1,404.2 cases per 100,000 people nationally. Monaghan has the highest county incidence, followed by Louth.
On Monday afternoon, 1,975 Covid-19 patients were hospitalised, of which 200 were in ICU. There were 102 additional hospitalisations in the previous 24 hours.
HSE national clinical lead, acute hospitals, Dr Vida Hamilton described the situation in hospitals as “very pressurised but functioning”, with 312 Covid and non-Covid patients currently in ICU.
So far this month, there have been 338 deaths of Covid-19 patients this month, compared to 171 in December and 163 in November.
Vaccine side effects
Some 81 reports of suspected side effects linked to the Covid-19 vaccine have been reported to Irish medical regulators.
All of the reports were consistent with those typically observed with other vaccines and included mild and moderate events such as abdominal pain, nausea, fatigue, joint pain and pains in the arms, dizziness, headache, itching and a rash, according to Lorraine Nolan, chief executive of the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA).
While uncomfortable, the “relatively mild” effects pass quickly and generally do not require medical treatment, she said.
From Thursday, the HPRA will publish regular updates on reports of suspected adverse reactions on its website, she said.
While the regulator has to date not received any reports of anaphylaxis associated with the use of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, it does anticipate it will as the numbers vaccinated increase, according to Dr Nolan.
Asked whether special schools should re-open as planned on Thursday, officials highlighted the balancing of risks involved. The experience of opening schools before Christmas was a largely successful and positive one, said assistant chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn, though there had been issues in a small number of locations.
However, widespread community transmission would have an impact on the ability of schools to operate, he added.
Dr Glynn said there was no such thing as a “zero risk environment”.
“There are people working in shops all across the country and that’s not a zero risk environment,” he said, adding that anyone leaving the house has to carry out their own risk assessment in review of the risk of infection.
Dr Holohan declined to comment on the Coombe hospital’s used of leftover Covid-19 doses to vaccinate staff family members, but he said he hoped people in leadership position in health would uphold the guidelines on prioritisation of people for access to the vaccine.
He said there was “very little prospect” at this stage of containing the spread of the variant first identified in the UK, which now accounts for close to half of cases that have been analysed.
He said there was no evidence of onward transmission of a South African variant after three cases were identified among people who had come from that country. Neither has any case so far been identified of a variant first identified in Brazil.
It was “probably not” the case that travel measures can completely halt the spread of viruses that already have a high transmission rate, but they can substantially slow the rate while as many people are vaccinated as possible.
Dr Hamilton said it was fair to describe hospitals as high risk environments at present due to the number of Covid-19 outbreaks and high occupancy rates.
Nphet hopes to re-introduce testing of contacts of cases, which was stopped last month as infections soared, as soon as it can, Dr Holohan said, and would also like to see serial testing introduced in hospitals when case number drop.
Nphet will consider the issue of antigen testing, and of building ventilation, at its meeting later this week.
Also on Monday, Nphet member Dr Mary Favier warned that there may be a need for Covid-19 restrictions until April or May if people do not curtail their movements.
“We are not doing enough, there is still too much movement,” she told Newstalk Breakfast.
Traffic on the roads was heavier than it had been during the first lockdown last March with more people going to work, said Dr Favier who is Covid-19 adviser to the Irish College of General Practitioners.
While the vast majority of the public were following the regulations, Dr Favier was very concerned that too many were still out and about.
GPs were concerned that as people returned to work recently the spread of the virus was not slowing down. “GPs are continuing to see lots of Covid cases. We had thought it had eased, but towards the end of last week we started seeing asymptomatic patients that need testing.”
Unless people stopped moving about the numbers would decrease very slowly, she said. “We have to reduce contacts.”
Hospitals were under significant pressure at present, said Dr Favier. If numbers were not reduced then restrictions would have to remain in place. “We’re still going to be in this situation until March, April or May,” she warned.
Dr Favier said she would appeal to people not to go to their workplace and for employers to facilitate working from home.
Elsewhere immunologist Kingston Mills has warned that travel regulations need to be implemented properly to keep new variants of Covid-19 out of the country.
It was imperative that such restrictions be implemented properly, the Professor of Experimental Immunology at Trinity College Dublin told Newstalk Breakfast.
While he did not think the numbers of cases would “mushroom” if restrictions were lifted, as had happened at Christmas, Prof Mills said he did not think the country would be “out of the woods” at the end of January when the current restrictions end.
Prof Mills also expressed concern at the numbers of frontline staff who were at present off work due to illness or for being close contacts. The roll out of the vaccine programme would help, but it would take time for the vaccine “to kick in.”
Almost 6,400 healthcare staff are off work due to coronavirus with hospitals facing into their most difficult week on record, as the third peak of the virus imminent.
Those unable to work due to infection or being contacts of a case include 2,500 nurses, 1,500 patient care staff, 600 health and social care professionals and 400 doctors, according to the latest HSE figures.
Massive levels of enforced absenteeism have forced the closure of wards in many hospitals and the curtailment of non-essential services, but Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly insisted yesterday hospitals will be able to cope.
The health service has sufficient staff, along with personal protective equipment, ventilators and oxygen to treat the peak of severely ill virus patients expected shortly, he said.
The Defence Forces have been deployed to three nursing homes in recent days to help ease staffing pressures, following an appeal from the HSE.
A Defence Forces spokesman confirmed more than 25 soldiers had been deployed to nursing homes in Ballincollig and Douglas, Co Cork, and Ennis, Co Clare.
A further 13 deaths of coronavirus patients were reported last night, along with 2,944 cases, the lowest daily figure since New Year’s Day.
Mr Donnelly told RTÉ in Sunday that the coronavirus surge in hospitals will peak “in the next week or two” and the hospital system would continue “to be under very significant pressure for the next two weeks”.
He said there was surge capacity of 350 critical care beds with deals in place with the private hospitals for 40 or 50 beds.
The Minister confirmed he had asked the HSE and Government to look at getting the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in place in advance of the vaccine being approved. With European drug regulators due to consider authorising this vaccine on January 29th, Irish officials want to have supplies ready to go here rather than wait for delivery.
But Mr Donnelly said “there are regulatory issues” and they had to have the cooperation of the company itself.
The vaccination programme will focus this week on long-term residential facilities with the aim of giving a first dose to all staff and residents by the end of next weekend. Vaccination of healthcare workers is being paused this week, though the aim is to have 70,000 healthcare workers and 70,000 in care facilities inoculated by next Sunday.