Coronavirus: 52 more deaths and 2,371 cases as EU vaccine plan hits fresh setback

Lockdown compliance has led to ‘first signs of lower prevalence’, says Holohan

The Pfizer/BioNTech Covid 19 vaccine being administered by  staff at St Vincent’s University Hospital, Dublin. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

The Pfizer/BioNTech Covid 19 vaccine being administered by staff at St Vincent’s University Hospital, Dublin. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

 

A further 52 deaths of Covid-19 patients were reported by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) on Friday evening.

This brings to 2,870 the total number of deaths in the pandemic.

Nphet also reported 2,371 further cases of the disease, bringing to 184,279 the total recorded to date.

On Friday afternoon, 1,931 Covid-19 patients were hospitalised, with 219 in ICU. There were 78 additional hospitalisations in the previous 24 hours.

The latest figures come amid a fresh blow to the EU’s vaccine rollout plan as AstraZeneca said initial deliveries the vaccine it is developing with Oxford University will fall short of the targeted volumes because of a glitch in production.

“Initial volumes will be lower than originally anticipated due to reduced yields at a manufacturing site within our European supply chain,” a company spokesman said in a written statement, declining to provide details.

Also on Friday, the British prime minister Boris Johnson said the new English variant of Covid-19 may be associated with a higher level of mortality.

“We’ve been informed today that in addition to spreading more quickly, it also now appears that there is some evidence that the new variant - the variant that was first discovered in London and the southeast (of England) - may be associated with a higher degree of mortality,” he told a news briefing.

However, he said evidence showed that both vaccines being used in the UK were effective against it.

Of the new cases in the Republic, 757 were in Dublin, 237 in Cork, 154 in Waterford, 123 in Wexford and 114 in Louth, with the remaining 986 cases are spread across all other counties.

The median age of cases is 40 years and 57 per cent are under 45 years.

The 14-day incidence of the disease has dropped to 1,017 cases per 100,000 people nationally. Monaghan has the highest county incidence, followed by Waterford and Louth.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan acknowledged the ongoing restrictions were very challenging for people but added that “through the hard work and sacrifice of the vast majority of people, we are starting to see the first signs of a lower prevalence of the disease in the population”.

“Strictly adhering to the public health measures is the key to making real progress in terms of flattening the curve and lowering the current trends in our hospitals and ICUs.

 Dr Holohan said the find-test-trace-isolate process was vital to controlling the spread of infections. However, “our data is telling us that for a third of people, it’s four days or more from the time they first experience symptoms of Covid-19 to the time they get tested”. He urged people to contact their GP as soon as symptoms occur, so contacts can be traced and further infections prevented.

 “This weekend, we need everyone to stay the course with hand washing, covering coughs, wearing face coverings and keeping a 2 metre distance. In order to take care of each other, we need all to stay at home, except for essential reasons, to minimise the spread of Covid-19 to ourselves and our loved ones.”

Nursing home deaths

As Nphet continues to update its daily figures, the HSE confirmed that 13 deaths had been recorded during a Covid-19 outbreak at a north Co Dublin nursing home with a “significant number” of residents and staff infected.

Some 11 of the deaths at the HSE-run Lusk Community Nursing Unit were among residents who had been confirmed as having the coronavirus disease.

The HSE said that a significant number of both patients and staff with the nursing home “remain affected by Covid-19 and every measure is in place to support them at this time.”

It has also emerged that there has been an outbreak of Covid-19 at a hospital in Killarney where the vaccine programme for the Cork-Kerry region was launched in early January.

Several staff and most of the patients at the Killarney Community Hospital, have tested positive for Covid-19. The programme was launched before the results of routine testing of staff, carried out at the same time, were known.

Many of the roughly 12 patients at the community hospital, known locally as the District Hospital, have now recovered. However, the level of staff out with the illness is presenting huge challenges.

Cork Community Healthcare says it will not comment on any individual hospital. However a spokeswoman said it was under great pressure because of the number of outbreaks at residential facilities including community hospitals across the region.

It has renewed its appeal for any available healthcare personnel who are not in the sector to contact them to help out.

Asked about the situation in Killarney, with vaccine rolled out before the results of tests were known, the HSE in a statement said: “There is no evidence of any risk associated with a vaccine being administered in an individual who is waiting for a result of serial swabbing tests at the time of vaccination provided that they are feeling well.”

At present, there are 49 outbreaks in residential settings across Cork and Kerry, a figure which includes nursing homes, community hospitals, disability centres and mental health services.

The level of staff illness and leave for Covid-related reasons was posing “a significant challenge”, the spokeswoman added.