Coronavirus: One death and 402 cases reported in State

Up to 240,000 Covid-19 vaccines could be issued next week, says Paul Reid

The Citywest Covid-19 vaccination centre in Dublin. File photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

The Citywest Covid-19 vaccination centre in Dublin. File photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

 

One more coronavirus-related death and 402 new Covid-19 cases have been reported in the State.

Overall, the number of confirmed cases reported in the Republic since the start of the pandemic is now just short of 250,000, according to figures released by the National Public Health Emergency Team on Sunday. A total of 4,906 deaths have been reported.

Nphet said that 79 per cent of the cases notified on Sunday were in people under 45 years of age. The median age was 31.5 years old.

It said the five-day moving average of new cases stood at 472.

At 8am on Sunday, 127 Covid-19 patients were hospitalised, of which 41 were in intensive care. There were six additional hospitalisations in the past 24 hours.

Meanwhile, HSE chief executive Paul Reid has maintained that the State’s vaccination programme is reaching a point of “really good momentum” and that between 220,000 and 240,000 vaccines could be administered in the coming week.

He said the HSE was continuing to work this weekend on a revised vaccination plan based on the most recent advice from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) which had placed constraints on its operations. He said this revised plan would be based on supply lines for vaccines and the age groups to be vaccinated. He said he did not want to see 300,000-400,000 vaccines left unused in fridges.

On Sunday, Northern Ireland’s Department of Health reported one further death of a Covid-19 patient and 69 new cases of the virus.

Speaking on RTÉ’s “This Week” programme on Sunday, Mr Reid indicated that further walk-in Covid-19 testing centres could be established in Co Donegal. He said that Donegal was a really big county and while some parts had an incidence of Covid-19 that was below the national average, there were other locations in the county that were of significant concern.

Mr Reid said the meeting on Saturday between the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly and TDs and other groups from Donegal had been “very helpful”.

“We already have a test site in Letterkenny, which is a walk-in facility. But equally following on from yesterday’s meeting and we will continue to look at further walk-in site and for further testing capacity.”

However, Mr Reid said that while testing was very important, it was a second line of defence. He said the first line of defence against Covid-19 in Donegal and everywhere else across the country were public health measures.

He said the HSE had 35 static test centres in place in different locations across the country as well as about six pop-up facilities which were mobilised into areas with high transmission levels.

“This will be an example of where we will do that.”

Mr Reid said there would probably be about 190,000 vaccines administered in the week from last Monday to Sunday.

He said more than 1.59 million vaccines had now been administered in total to date and that 30 per cent of the population had now received their first dose. He said 12 per cent of people had received a second dose.

He said 4,600 people received vaccines in the Helix in Dublin on Saturday.

Mr Reid said the health service was looking forward to the approach that should be taken in May and June based on the most recent Niac advice.

He said “we are trying to get clarity from suppliers about delivery dates and how predictable can they be”.

“Then we are looking through the age profiles and how we revise the plan.

“We are going to continue with Government policy and go down through age as that is where the risk factor is. Secondly, we are looking at the supply of vaccines and the date they are due – how do we utilise all vaccines as we do not want 300,000 or 400,000 vaccines sitting in a fridge and not being able to utilise them.”

He said one of the issues being looked at was whether one age group could be potentially called in parallel with another.

However, Mr Reid cautioned that while this concept may seem fine to some extent, “what would not be fine is that you would be dropping down through ages”.

He said if there were people in the 50s still waiting for a vaccine while others in their 30s were receiving one, that would not be good from a public health perspective “because we know where the risk factors are”.

Mr Reid said a key restraining factor on the programme was that under the Niac advice the AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson vaccines could only be used for those over 50.

“That does offer a significant constraint not just as how we progress through the ages but also in terms of maximising all channels [for administering the vaccine], particularly pharmacies.

Mr Reid said the mRNA vaccines such as Pfizer and Moderna were not suitable for administration in pharmacies.

‘Incremental reopening’

Meanwhile, a senior Nphet member has said a “slow, incremental” reopening of society is achievable due to the progress of the Covid-19 vaccine rollout but we still need to be cautious.

Prof Philip Nolan, chair of the Nphet modelling group, said there are two reasons a relaxation of restrictions is needed now – “because of the length of time we’ve had to endure quite frankly really restrictive public health measures”.

He also said it is 61 weeks since the first case of Covid-19 in Ireland and 18 weeks since Level 5 restrictions were introduced.

“We do need to move on at this point and we’re at a point in the pandemic where certain low risk things that are really important to us can be done like going to larger shops, going to smaller shops in small numbers, getting together outdoors just simply to be together and enjoy each other’s company.”

“I really feel we can do this. I really feel we can get through the next four to eight weeks safely so long as we as individuals keep contacts modest” and meetings outdoors.

Speaking on Newstalk’s On the Record with Gavan Reilly, Prof Nolan said “low risk things are relatively safe particularly as the vaccination programme ramps up and the vulnerable are protected and more widely society achieves a level of protection where the virus finds it more difficult to spread”.

He said last summer as society progressively opened up it started with a reproduction rate of the virus or 1 moving up to 1.2 and by September it was as high as 1.6 but they had some level of certainty with their modelling.

“However B117 is between 40 per cent and 90 per cent more transmissible” and that makes a huge difference, he said.

He said they had to talk Government through what would happen at different reproduction levels.

Prof Nolan said that in the next six to eight weeks case numbers could either see very low cases or very small increases in numbers or an increase in numbers.

“We are going to have to learn as we go and there may be a bump in the road where we find something is less safe than we thought.”

He said “If you’ve fewer cases in older people the proportion of cases in younger people goes up. So we’re going to see that inevitably.

The reaction to a certain number of cases now is different to what it would have been in January or April or October last year because of vaccination “but we do need to be cautious”.

Referring to the risk levels for young adults he said: “Younger people have a higher level of social contacts. As we relax restriction we find younger people at higher risk than people in their 40s simply because they’re out and about more.”

He believed that broadly speaking people are behaving responsibly.

“There is a sense in the population that we can meet up outdoors and keep our distance” and he said “people are making appropriate risk calculations”.

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