Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly and chief medical officer Tony Holohan will give a briefing to Limerick-based TDs and Senators on Friday afternoon addressing the recent rise in Covid-19 cases in the county.
On Wednesday, some 103 cases were reported in Limerick, the highest total there since the peak of the national pandemic crisis in January. The meeting was arranged by Fianna Fáil TD Niall Collins who said on Thursday that he was very concerned about the high numbers there compared with other regions of the country.
“We want them to outline the scenario, the reasons why they are so high, and tell us what we can and can’t do to respond to it,” he told The Irish Times.
Today we are reporting a significant increase in cases in Limerick with incidence increasing sharply to 411/100,000.— Dr Tony Holohan (@CMOIreland) June 3, 2021
There have been more than 800 confirmed cases of #COVID19 in Limerick in the past fortnight, the majority of which occurred as a result of indoor gatherings.
In a tweet, Mr Collins said he was asking all local people to “please observe good practice and get the numbers down again”.
The briefing on Friday will be conducted by video conference.
Dr Holohan expressed concern over the “significant increase” in Covid-19 cases in Limerick in the past fortnight.
Dr Holohan said more than 800 cases had been reported in the county in the last two weeks, “the majority of which occurred as a result of indoor gatherings”.
In a series of tweets on Thursday evening, Dr Holohan said incidence of the virus in Limerick had increased sharply to 411 cases per 100,000 people, the highest in the country.
“It is extremely important that everyone in the Limerick region continues to adhere to the public health advice,” he tweeted.
On Wednesday, Dr Mai Mannix, public health doctor with the HSE in the mid-west, said the rise in Limerick was driven by multiple community outbreaks linked to “high risk” indoor activity such as house parties and family events.
The vast majority of cases involved people in their 30s and 40s.
In one instance, 30 cases were recorded in a school after a series of birthday parties and social events involving students. This activity around education led to a “combined pressure cooker effect” in the school, she said.
Dr Mannix said a family member worked in a place “with strong ties to a particular community” where people tended to gather. From here, the virus spread to three households, another workplace, further households and two education settings.
Dr Mannix said Limerick has recorded more than 50 cases in 20 workplaces in the second half of May, including retailers, beauticians, hair salons, offices and factories. One hair salon had more than 50 contacts.
In some workplaces the wearing of masks appeared to be “intermittent”, she said.
Dr Holohan’s comments came after the Department of Health reported a further 465 confirmed cases of Covid-19 across the State on Thursday.
In a statement on Twitter the department said there were 84 Covid-19 patients in hospital with 30 in intensive care.
In Northern Ireland, one further Covid-19 death was recorded by its Department of Health. The death was included in the departmental statistics on Thursday but did not occur in the previous 24-hour reporting period. There have been another 80 confirmed cases of the virus recorded.
Earlier on Thursday, HSE chief executive Paul Reid said Ireland had come “a long way from the dark days of January” when more than 2,000 people were hospitalised with Covid-19 and 200 were in intensive care (ICU).
“We can’t ever go back there. Brighter days ahead. Let’s keep winning hearts & minds and people’s committment [sic]. Its what works,” Mr Reid said.
On Wednesday, Dr Holohan said people who have had Covid-19 are now presumed to have immunity for nine months. This period may be further increased from the previous six-month period to 12 months later this year.
Immunologist Prof Kingston Mills on Thursday said that the over-60s and the over-70s who received AstraZeneca for their first dose should be offered the Pfizer vaccine for their second dose as this would give them the best protection.
Speaking on RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show, Prof Mills said that in his estimation those age group should get a booster with Pfizer as they were high-risk and should be given the best vaccine.
This was already happening in countries such as Canada, Germany, Finland and Norway, where it was found to give “very neutralising antibodies”.
Given no choice
He said it was ridiculous that those aged from 60 to 70 were given no choice but AstraZeneca and were told there would be a bonus after one dose and they would be better protected than if they got the Pfizer vaccine.
“Clearly this was nonsense - and it was clearly the opposite. The efficacy is going to be much higher if you get Pfizer.”
Offering a second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine to the over 60s in a shorter timeframe could also delay the rollout to those in the 40s age group, he warned.
Dr Holohan has advised the HSE it will be able to reduce the gap between the first and second doses of AstraZeneca vaccine from 12 weeks to eight weeks.
The advice is contained in a letter he sent on foot of a fresh recommendation from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac). The HSE will now consider the advice and its possible implication in the overall Covid-19 vaccine rollout.
If it reduces the gap, many people who were given a first dose of AstraZeneca will get the second dose at least four weeks earlier.
UK studies have shown that the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines are only 33 per cent effective in protecting against infection by the Delta variant first identified in India, but that effectiveness rises to more than 88 per cent after two doses of Pfizer and 60 per cent for AstraZeneca.
Dr Holohan also stood over his criticisms of crowds gathering to socialise in Dublin city centre last weekend.
“If you get a large crowd in a small area, in close physical contact, that will present opportunities for transmission,” he told Wednesday’s Nphet briefing.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin last night said better facilities should be provided for people outdoors and that streets should be redesigned.
Local authorities around the country will be asked to put extra bins and toilets on city streets after a backlash following on-street drinking and congregation last weekend.
Dublin City Council on Thursday announced plans to place 150 temporary toilets and more than 100 extra bins at locations with heavy footfall in the city centre.
Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland that the weather had been good last weekend and people had been told that “outdoors was good” but had no place to go. Mr Harris said he would prefer to see better facilities “not finger wagging.” Addtional reporting: PA