Coronavirus: Six deaths and 1,296 cases reported in Republic

Donnelly says State will begin issuing Pfizer/BioNTech jabs on December 30th

The HSE takes delivery of the first doses of the Pfizer BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at a secure location in Ireland. Video: Twitter.com/Stephen Donnelly / eudebates.tv

 

A further six coronavirus-related deaths and 1,296 Covid-19 cases have been reported in the Republic on the day the first vaccines arrived in the country.

The National Public Health Emergency Team said on Saturday there had now been 2,200 deaths as a result of the pandemic.

It is the second day in a row that the number of daily Covid-19 cases climbed above the 1,000 mark. Before this week, the daily figure had not been above 1,000 since October 25th.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said in a statement: “Within a few short weeks of easing measures at the beginning of December, we have now returned to the very high levels of Covid-19 circulating in the community that we have not seen since the peak of wave two of this disease. This is very concerning.”

Earlier, the first shipment of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine arrived in the Republic.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the country would begin its vaccination programme next Wednesday with frontline healthcare workers and nursing home residents set to get the jab first.

The first doses of the BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine are being stored in ultra-low refrigeration conditions at a secure location ahead of the rollout of the national Covid-19 vaccination programme.

“After a difficult and different Christmas for many people, it is wonderful to see the first deliveries of Covid-19 vaccines to Ireland today,” Mr Donnelly said. “The arrival of these vaccines to Ireland is a significant and positive” he added describing it as a “massive achievement by the scientific and medical communities [which] will save many lives”.

He said the recent increase in cases had focused “our collective minds on the continued challenge of Covid-19” and said the advent of “safe and effective vaccines will help us to protect the most vulnerable in our society as we ramp up our immunisation programme”.

He suggested that the vaccine promised “a brighter year” but stressed the “need to be aware of the threat of Covid-19” and to follow all public health guidance “and remember that every contact counts”.

The chief executive of the HSE Paul Reid said the delivery was “a welcome sight at what is a very difficult time in our efforts to curb the devastating impact of Covid-19”.

He said it represented “hope for us all as we move into a new year, but we must remember, we all still have our part to play”.

Prof Brian MacCraith, chair of the Government’s taskforce on Covid-19, added that after “a truly horrible year, today’s arrival represents a bright new dawn of hope. It’s a gateway of opportunity for Irish people to protect themselves against this awful virus.”

HSE’s chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry pointed out that while the vaccine’s arrival was a very positive development “it is critical that all of us keep in mind that the vaccine is not our first line of defence against Covid-19”.

He said the advice to the public remains the same “in particular as we see increased community transmission and case numbers continue to rise”.

The first batch of the vaccine is understood to contain 10,000 doses of the jab with the next shipment – of tens of thousands of doses – due in the first week of January.

It is envisaged by the HSE that 30,000 nursing home residents will be vaccinated, having received the required two doses, by the end of January.

After frontline healthcare workers and nursing home residents are vaccinated, people over 70; other healthcare workers not in direct patient contact, people aged 65 to 69 and other “key workers” will be vaccinated in that order.

This will be followed by people aged 18 to 64 years with certain medical conditions; who are residents of long-term care facilities, and living or working in crowded settings.

Next to be immunised will be key workers in essential jobs who cannot avoid a high risk of exposure; people working in education, people aged 55 to 64, other workers in occupations important to the functioning of society and those aged between 18 and 54.

However, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said mass inoculation against Covid-19 is unlikely to be possible until May or June as the vaccine will not be available in sufficient quantities until then.

Mr Martin said normal life will not return until the summer at the earliest and the return to normal will be “tentative”.

“I think the first six months of 2021 will see improvements but we certainly won’t have normality in the first six months as we knew it,” he said in Government Buildings.

Mr Martin said European Union leaders had been briefed by European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen that manufacturing vaccines “will ramp up certainly [in] March onwards and she would have identified May-June as critical months in terms of high volumes of vaccines coming in”.

He said the expected volumes of vaccines in January and February were “relatively low in terms of what would come subsequently. But that’s where we’ll be dealing with nursing home residents and healthcare workers and key workers . . . that will make a significant difference in itself. If we can immunise and can protect those most vulnerable, that already begins to give us a greater freedom in terms of policy options and decisions we take.”

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