HSE chief executive Paul Reid appealed to people to avoid dropping their guard over the coming weeks, out of “frustration or confusion” amid the controversy over an outdoor event attended by 50 people including Tánaiste Leo Varadkar.
This week the Government was caught up in a controversy over an outdoor event at the Merrion Hotel and, organised by former minister Katherine Zappone.
“We’re so close to being on the right side of this pandemic ... The only cause of concern we would have, people just drop the guard over the next few weeks, whether it is out of frustration, confusion,” he said at a HSE briefing.
Asked about the event later on RTÉ’s Drivetime programme he said: “It can cause confusion, it can cause distraction, it can cause a reaction, and our concern at points like this is people drop their guard ... My call to everybody is please do everything we’re doing at the moment, we need a few weeks to work through the remaining vaccination process”.
After details of the event emerged, the Attorney General said up to 200 people were allowed for outdoor gatherings within social settings under the regulations. The hospitality guidelines are to be reviewed in the wake of the confusion. The hotel said it remained within the guidelines at all times.
It comes as an additional 1,491 cases were reported by the Department of Health on Thursday, with 193 hospitalised of which 28 are in ICU.
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said vaccination was the way out of the pandemic and take-up was extremely high.
“It’s understandable that after the period of time that Covid-19 has been with us, that some people become tired of it. But the virus does not become tired. It doesn’t care if we are fed up, it only sees the opportunity to spread from person to person when we let our guard down.
He urged people to “risk assess” their plans this weekend and to err on the side of caution of they have any symptoms.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) earlier said nine out of 10 people aged 16 and above had either received a Covid-19 vaccine, or had registered for a vaccine appointment to receive the shot.
The HSE announced it is to operate 30 walk-in vaccination centres across the country again over the coming weekend.
More than 30,000 people attended walk-in clinics over the bank holiday weekend, which had been hailed as a “momentous weekend” for the vaccine programme by health officials.
Mr Reid said the walk-in centres would run again offering first doses of Covid-19 vaccines over Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Speaking at a media briefing on Thursday, Mr Reid said there was “still further potential” for walk-in centres to reach younger cohorts.
Large number of those who attended the previous walk-in clinics had not been registered for vaccine appointments on the HSE’s online portal.
Health officials were “genuinely taken aback” by the large numbers of younger people who turned up at the walk-in centres last weekend, he said.
“The reason given as to why they came forward, the one that stood out for us was firstly to protect themselves, second to protect their family and thirdly to get their lives back,” he said.
The vaccination programme administered the sixth million dose on Thursday morning, as registration will open for 12- to 15-year-olds next week.
12- to 15-year-olds
In a tweet on Thursday afternoon, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said: “The registration for a Covid-19 vaccine for children and young people, age 12-15 will open next week.
“I’m encouraging parents and these young people to seek information from reliable sources such as the HSE website.”
The next phase of the inoculation campaign aims to see a large number of 12-15 year-olds offered a first vaccine before the start of the next school year.
Some 30,000 people attended Covid-19 testing centres last weekend, which Mr Reid said was a “keen reminder that the virus is still out there”.
Just under 80 per cent of intensive care Covid-19 admissions between April and the end of July were among the unvaccinated, according to HSE figures.
Only six per cent of those in intensive care with Covid-19 over the four-month period were fully vaccinated.
Dr Colm Henry, HSE chief clinical officer, said Ireland had a “relatively high” incidence of the virus compared to other European countries, while Donegal still had the highest incidence in the country.
There were 193 patients in hospital with the virus at present, an increase of a quarter compared to hospitalisations last week.
“Most Covid positive patients in hospital are people who require hospital care because of Covid,” Mr Reid said.
There were 41 outbreaks of the virus in workplaces last week, accounting for 110 new cases. There were a further seven outbreaks related to travel, two in nursing homes, and 12 traced to social gatherings.
Niamh O’Beirne, HSE national lead for testing and tracing, said there had not been an “excessive volume” of outbreaks linked to the reopening of the hospitality sector. Contact tracers had seen a number of outbreaks in hotels, as well as bars, and golf clubs, she said.
Current models show the number of cases was rising at a slower rate than previously projected when the country entered a fourth wave, following the rapid spread of the Delta variant.
Ms O’Beirne said latest projections show a trend of “a slow steady rise” of cases over the next month, to a peak of more than 3,000 a day at the end of August, after which numbers might start to decline.
Latest figures show 56 per cent of the 30-39 age group are fully vaccinated, while 84 per cent have at least one dose.
Nearly three quarters of 18- to 29-year-olds are partially vaccinated, while 39 per cent are fully inoculated.
Some 46 per cent of 16- to 17-year-olds have received one dose of the vaccine, while six per cent are fully vaccinated.
New HSE guidance is to be issued to maternity hospitals, to allow partners of pregnant women accompany them at 12-week scans, and in the cases of Caesarean sections, Dr Henry stated.