Covid-19: ‘Significant acceleration’ in spread as 994 cases reported in State

Up to one in 20 cases involve people who were fully vaccinated, HSE says

Paul Reid, CEO HSE. Photograph: Leon Farrell

The spread of Covid-19 in the State has been marked by a very significant acceleration and up to one in 20 of the new cases involves people who were fully vaccinated, the Health Service Executive has said.

Up to recently, the HSE believed the 1,000 new cases a day threshold would not be reached until the end of the month, but it is already happening, the HSE chief executive Paul Reid said.

Some 994 cases of Covid-19 have been reported in the State on Thursday, according to the Department of Health.

As of 8am on Thursday, there are 80 Covid-19 patients in hospital, of which 22 are in ICU.

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Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan has said the unvaccinated should continue to avoid high-risk, uncontrolled indoor settings, which includes hospitality.

“We are very much on higher alert than we had been,” Mr Reid said, adding that the HSE’s track and tracing service has already seen a “surge” in cases and is now dealing with 20,000 tests a day.

However, the State’s hospitals have not yet seen a surge in people seeking hospitalisation or, indeed, intensive cares: “This is all still to play for, but it is certainly high risk at the moment,” he said.

‘Most vulnerable’

He urged people to continue to take precautions, particularly directing his message at the younger, unvaccinated population, who he acknowledged had already sacrificed so much.

“Those who are most vulnerable are those who are not vaccinated.”

People aged 25-29 can register online for vaccination from Friday, and on Monday it is expected that those aged 18-24 will be given an update on when they will become eligible to do so.

The service for the 25-29 year olds is immediately open to all those in that age category, and is not being staggered year by year as happened with earlier age bands.

Meanwhile, all young people can continue to seek to get vaccinated at pharmacies.

Niamh O’Beirne, the national lead on testing and tracing, told the briefing that the level of positive cases was up by a further 25 per cent on Wednesday, when it reached 7.8 per cent.

At some sites, the positivity rate is as high as 15 per cent. Close contacts are now running at an average of four per person.

Holiday destinations

The service is also witnessing a significant number of cases among people who have arrived from the holiday destinations of Spain, Portugal and the UK, she said.

Many had become ill with Covid within 14 days of returning home, and had tested negative prior to getting on their flights, she said.

Mr Reid said World Health Organisation data showed that the 40-day incidence rate in Ireland had gone up by 50 per cent in two weeks, and that we are now eighth highest out of 31 European countries.

Aine O’Connor, the chief operations officer with the HSE, said the hospital service was preparing for a surge and that it may have to shortly begin deferring some categories of care, if the numbers being hospitalised continue to rise.

Mr Reid emphasised that those who are fully vaccinated are “very well protected against hospitalisation”, with more than 90 per cent protection.

However the protection was less in terms of contracting the virus.

“The concern across Europe that it will get into the vaccinated population, but people should take confidence from how the vaccines are performing.”

The effect of the vaccination programme could be seen in the fact that 87 per cent of current cases are in people below the age of 45 years.

Uptake in Ireland was still very strong, he added, with the rate going from 99 per cent in those aged more than 80, to 91 per cent among those aged 50-59, to 84 per cent among those aged 40-49.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said it is now possible to store the digital Covid certificate in the Covid tracker app, with a new version of the app available on Thursday.

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland reported more than 1,000 new cases of Covid-19 on Thursday for the first time since January.

The North’s Minister for Health, Robin Swann, said “today’s spike” was “cause for concern”.

A further 1,083 new cases of the virus were recorded by the North’s Department of Health. There were no further fatalities.

A total of 4,437 people in Northern Ireland have tested positive for the virus in the last week, compared to 3,291 in the previous seven days. The majority of cases are in those aged 39 and under.

Belfast has had the most new cases in the last seven days.

Mr Swann said that while the North was in “a more fortunate position with a large proportion of the population now vaccinated we must remain cautious” and urged everyone to follow the Covid-19 rules and guidelines.

He made a specific appeal to those in younger age groups to protect themselves and others by getting vaccinated.

The North’s chief medical officer, Michael McBride, also appealed to anyone who has not yet been vaccinated to do so.

“With such high infection levels circulating in the community it is vital that all those eligible for vaccination come forward for their jab,” he said.

“Our health system is at the point where it is struggling to cope with current levels of demand for care. We simply cannot continue to add more pressure. We must work together to drive down infection levels,” he said.

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times

Colm Keena

Colm Keena

Colm Keena is an Irish Times journalist. He was previously legal-affairs correspondent and public-affairs correspondent