Covid-19: New advice group to replace Nphet ‘imminent’ with nearly 1,400 cases in hospital

More than 21,000 cases of virus reported today and nine further deaths in past week

A new group to advise the Government on Covid-19 is expected to be set up “imminently”, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said.

He was speaking as a further 21,098 Covid-19 cases reported by the Department of Health on Wednesday, including 14,060 who registered a positive antigen test with the Health Service Executive (HSE).

There were 1,395 patients with Covid-19 in hospital, an increase of 56 on the previous day. Of these, 55 patients were intensive care units, a decrease of six from yesterday.

A further nine deaths from Covid-19 have been recorded in the past week.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan, the Department of Health and HSE continue to offer advice on the response to the pandemic.

Mr Holohan has sent Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly a proposal for a new advisory body to replace the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) but it has not yet been appointed.

Mr Varadkar said he does not have a date for when the new group will be in place but added: “I understand it’s imminent.”

At a press conference on Wednesday, Mr Varadkar was asked if he is worried that renewed restrictions may be warranted given the rising number of cases of Covid-19.

“If that advice were to come it would come from the Chief Medical Officer who still in situ and obviously still commands his role,” Mr Varadkar replied.

He said Ireland was experiencing a second wave of Omicron driven by the more infectious Omicron subvariant BA.2.

“It isn’t a surprise that we’re seeing an increase in infections. What is reassuring is that many or even a half of the people who are in hospital with Covid would be in hospital anyway.”

That was because they were people who presented to hospital with other ailments and were subsequently found to have Covid-19.

He said the virus was not going to go away, there will be more waves in the coming months and years and “we don’t want to be turning on and off restrictions.”

Mr Varadkar added: “We do need to live with this virus and the solution in my view is vaccination. It’s heeding the advice to stay at home if you have symptoms, getting a test if you do.

“And then observing the kind of common sense advice... like mask wearing where appropriate, ventilation and getting outside.”

Death toll

The most recent deaths from the coronavirus disease reported by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) bring the total number of deaths from the disease in the pandemic to 6,664.

The nine deaths in the week to March 19th – a decrease from 24 deaths reported the previous week – are the lowest weekly number of Covid-19 deaths since the start of the year.

The mean age of the most recent deaths was 78 and the median age was 83.

The HPSC ’s latest report on clusters shows that there were 34 new outbreaks reported in nursing homes during the week, a reduction of 13 from the previous week, and 16 new outbreaks in hospitals, down 14 on the previous week.

There are 303 outbreaks in nursing homes deemed to be “open”. An outbreak is defined as two or more linked cases of Covid-19. An outbreak is not deemed to be closed until there have been no new cases of infection for 28 days.

Overall, 3,548 men and 3,081 women have died from the disease during the pandemic with the median age standing at 82 and the mean age at 80.

Just under 90 per cent of the deaths have been among people aged 65 and older.

Louth is the county with the highest Covid-19 mortality rate with 198 deaths per 100,000 people followed by Mayo with 194 deaths per 100,000 people.

Sligo has the lowest mortality rate with 73 deaths for every 100,000 people.

Hospitals account for the location with the highest number of deaths with 52.6 per cent of fatalities occurring in hospitals, followed by residential institutions at 32.5 per cent.

There have been 3,855 deaths linked to outbreaks, including 2,343 in nursing homes, or 35 per cent of all deaths.

Advice

Earlier on Wednesday, the director general of the Health Service Executive (HSE) Paul Reid said the executive is awaiting advice from the National Immunisation Advisory Council (Niac) to start dispensing a fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine to older and vulnerable people.

“We’re ready, we haven’t dismantled the structures,” said Mr Reid.

Mr Reid defended Niac saying that it had served the country well during the pandemic with its advice on timing and sequencing of vaccines.

Mr Reid encouraged parents to have their children vaccinated as it had been proven that the vaccine provided the best protection against serious illness from the virus.

There were 4,300 health service staff absent from work because of Covid and a further 1,000 staff absent from nursing homes. “We are seeing increasingly crippling effects of Covid,” Mr Reid told Newstalk’s Pat Kenny Show.

Meanwhile, Mr Donnelly is self isolating with flu-like symptoms and will miss engagements he was due to attend on Wednesday.

The Minister for Health has tested negative for Covid-19 but bowed out of an event at Connelly Hospital in Dublin as a precaution.

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee was not attending the British-Irish intergovernmental conference being held on Wednesday after testing positive for Covid.

Ms McEntee, who previously tested positive for Covid in January 2021, did so again in recent days, a spokesman said. She is self isolating at home.