Public health officials have held out the prospect of a “vaccine bonus” in the near future, as disease incidence drops and vaccination coverage grows.
The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) is looking at what changes should be made in recognition of wider vaccination, deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said, and its advice will be given to Government in the context of the next easing of restrictions.
“I’m hopeful over the coming weeks we’ll start to be able to tell people what the bonus from vaccination is and what you can and cannot do,” said Dr Glynn.
“We have vaccines, the vast majority of people in nursing homes have been vaccinated. Hopefully, there will be vaccine bonus for people over the next while.”
On Thursday, it will consider specifically what changes should be made to visiting arrangements for nursing homes now that the sector is fully vaccinated.
No further deaths of Covid-19 patients were reported by Nphet on Monday. This leaves at 4,422 the total number of deaths in the pandemic.
Nphet reported 437 confirmed cases of the disease.
Of the new cases, 184 were in Dublin, 31 in Limerick, 26 in Donegal, 20 in Galway and 18 in Offaly, with the remaining 158 cases spread across all other counties.
The median age of cases was 34 years and 71 per cent were under 45.
The 14-day incidence of the disease now stands at 167 cases per 100,000 people nationally. Longford has the highest county incidence, followed by Offaly. Kilkenny has the lowest incidence
Asked why Longford and Offaly have the highest county incidences of Covid-19, Dr Glynn cited a number of workplace outbreaks in the midlands and also outbreaks among Travellers in the region. There were 19 workplace outbreaks nationally last week.
But he pointed out that some of the outbreaks may be “old” and are being recorded now because public health staff are catching up with them as overall case numbers decline.
The reduction in infections is accelerating, with case counts falling by an average of about 100 a week and reductions in incidence across all age groups, according to Prof Philip Nolan, chair of the Nphet epidemiological modelling advisory group.
However, Ireland remained on a "precarious pathway" and needs to ensure a continued fall in case numbers throughout March so that the possibility of another wave declines, Dr Glynn said.
Compliance with public health measures remains very high, according to Dr Glynn, who warned that hope about an improvement must not give way to complacency. The fact that mobility across the population was drifting upwards was “a cause for concern”.
“Across Europe countries are seeing a deteriorating picture and our own disease incidence remains high – we must do all we can to continue to suppress this virus and to ensure that as many people as possible get to benefit from vaccination over the coming months.”
Dr Cliona Murphy, chair of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, warned about misinformation on social media about the risk associated with taking Covid-19 vaccines and an impact on fertility.
“There is no evidence that taking any of the vaccines affects a woman’s future ability to conceive, or to continue a pregnancy,” she said.
Dr Murphy said there was no reason to avoid vaccination among those with a history of miscarriages.
Women planning for IVF could make the choice to wait until they have received both doses before proceeding with scheduled treatment as it would be beneficial to be fully vaccinated.
Asked about the preliminary reports linking Covid-19 infections to four stillbirths, Dr Murphy said “it is the view of the pathologists conducting these investigations that Covid-19 was the significant factor that resulted in the stillbirth of these babies”.
She said perinatal pathologists were liaising with international colleagues, but “we need to keep an open mind.”
Asked about the possibility of people from the Republic spreading infection to the North due to differing rates of vaccination across the Border, Dr Glynn said it was possible the two jurisdictions could diverge epidemiologically over the coming weeks but for the moment they are on a similar path.
On Monday morning, 418 Covid-19 patients were hospitalised, of which 103 were in ICU. There were 20 additional hospitalisations in the previous 24 hours.
Up to Friday, 513,322 doses of Covid-19 vaccine had been administered in Ireland: 363,601 people first dose and 149,721 second doses.
Meanwhile, the HSE chief clinical officer has said it will contact patients with serious medical conditions directly to let them know when they will receive the Covid-19 vaccination.
Dr Colm Henry said on Monday the HSE was working through the hospital network to identify patients with chronic conditions such as cancer, renal failure and respiratory issues.
Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast, Dr Henry reassured patients with very high-risk medical conditions who are aged between 16 and 69 that there was no need to contact their GP or the HSE, and that people would be alerted once the vaccine becomes available to them.
He noted that there were many diverse conditions included in the category 4 cohort – those aged 16-69 with a medical condition that puts them at very high risk of severe disease and death if they contract the virus
While there had been “some incidents” with regard to deliveries of the vaccine recently, Dr Henry said he was confident that rescheduled deliveries would go ahead and that the summer deadlines would be achieved.
HSE chief executive Paul Reid said on Sunday the vaccination of people aged 16-69 with serious illnesses would begin this week and that he expected about 10,000 people in this cohort to be vaccinated over the next seven days.
Meanwhile, the commander of the joint taskforce Operation Fortitude, Brigadier General Brendan McGuinness has outlined the role the Defence Forces will play in the new mandatory quarantine scheme. The system for quarantining passengers arriving into Ireland was signed into law on Sunday by President Michael D Higgins and will allow the State to require passengers arriving from 20 named countries with a high incidence of Covid-19 to quarantine for 14 days in a designated hotel.
Speaking on RTÉ radio's Morning Ireland, Brig Gen McGuinness said roles were "still under design" but that the Defence Forces could offer skills in coordination and liaison.
The mandatory quarantine scheme will involve a wide range of State services, agencies and Government departments along with civilian contractors, he said. “Our role will be around the State official liaison role and that will have a coordination or a connection role between the services that will be provided by State agencies and some areas supplied by private contractors.”
“We’ll engage with the company transporting the passengers, we’ll engage with the company accommodating the passengers and of course the security as well. We will have that overseeing, connecting role between all those services to make sure that the scheme will hopefully run smoothly, as required by the legislation.”
Members of the Defence Forces who are “Covid-facing’ have been vaccinated along with HSE frontline colleagues, he said.