Covid-19: Six school outbreaks in past week with fewer than 10 cases involved

Nphet reported 10 further deaths of Covid-19 patients and 592 new cases on Thursday

With more classes open now, more of the cases among children will inevitably be picked up in schools, Nphet official Prof Philip Nolan pointed out. Photograph: Alan Betson

With more classes open now, more of the cases among children will inevitably be picked up in schools, Nphet official Prof Philip Nolan pointed out. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Six outbreaks in schools have occurred in the past week, involved fewer than 10 cases, according to the National Public Health Emergency Team.

With more classes open now, more of the cases among children will inevitably be picked up in schools, Nphet official Prof Philip Nolan pointed out, though transmission most often happens in the community.

A further 10 deaths of Covid-19 patients were reported by Nphet on Thursday. Eight of the deaths occurred in March, one in February and one in January.

With one of four previously disclosed stillbirths included in the figures for Thursday, those who died ranged in age from 0 to 84 years and the median age was 84. So far this month, there have been 67 deaths of patients with Covid-19.

Nphet also reported 592 confirmed cases of the disease, bringing to 225,179 the total number of cases in the Republic.

Of the new cases, 253 were in Dublin, 52 in Kildare, 35 in Donegal, 33 in Meath and 28 in Galway, with the remaining 191 cases spread across all other counties

The 14-day incidence of the disease now stands at 162 cases per 100,000 people nationally. Longford has the highest county incidence, followed by Offaly and Dublin. Leitrim has the lowest incidence.

The median age of cases is 32 years and 72 per cent are under 45.

The reproduction number, a measure of how many other people a case infects, now stands at 0.6-1, according to Prof Nolan, chair of the Nphet epidemiological modelling advisory group.

“We are seeing continued, slow progress across all indicators of Covid-19. There are some concerning trends in the data and as the incidence remains high, our situation is precarious.”

Precarious position

Increases in mobility and workplace attendance could potentially increase infection in the coming weeks, he warned.

At 500 a day, the average case number is twice what it was at the beginning of December and 50 times higher than last June.

In recent days, cases have upticked and there is “a little bit of concern this may be the beginning of something,” Prof Nolan said.

Urging people to continue to work from home where possible, he said even a marginal change in workplace attendance can have a “huge impact” on the spread of the disease.

“We are sailing very close to the wind,” he said. “A gust of wind in the wrong direction and we’re in real trouble”.

It was “very hard” to tell whether the epidemic was continuing to decrease or not, with the rate of decline somewhere between zero and 5 per cent.

Hospital Report

Confirmed cases in hospital Confirmed cases in ICU
449 93

Collectively, people need to “pull back from the brink” of any slippage to public health advice, Prof Nolan said.

Now was not the time to “take the foot off the brake,” according to deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn, who urged people to “stick at this for two to three months”, after which brighter days and a good summer should come, “barring unforeseen events”.

The number of case of the B1351 variant first identified in South Africa has increased by four to 19, the briefing heard, while there are six cases of the P1 variant that emerged in Brazil.

In addition, there are small numbers of cases of “variants under investigation”: seven B1525, linked to the UK and Nigeria; five B1526, that was found in New York; and 11 P2 variant cases linked to Brazil.

On Thursday, 359 Covid-19 patients were hospitalised, of which 87 were in ICU. There were 32 additional hospitalisations in the previous 24 hours.

Up to Monday, 536,617 doses of vaccine had been administered: 382,528 people first doses and154,089 second doses.

Nursing home visits

Also on Thursday, it was announced that nursing home residents will be permitted to have two visits a week on compassionate grounds from March 22nd as care facilities benefit from the rollout of Covid-19 vaccination programme.

Nphet gave their approval to permit long-term care facility residents to have the two weekly visits which can each last more than one hour.

The visits will be possible two weeks after full vaccination where 80 per cent of all residents and healthcare workers in the care home have been vaccinated.

Earlier, new figures from the HSE showed that almost 2,000 patients and staff have contracted Covid-19 in hospital since the start of the year.The 1,972 hospital infections since late December are more than twice the 789 infections recorded last year, though there were no infections in children’s hospitals.

The HSE’s confidence in AstraZeneca to deliver its vaccine has been “fairly rocked” by the changes to deliveries that have occurred, according to HSE chief executive Paul Reid said.

The impact on Ireland’s vaccine rollout was probably greater than in other EU countries, Mr Reid told a HSE briefing.

In one example he cited, AstraZeneca told the HSE on a Friday that it was unable to deliver supplies, which meant vaccinations planned for that Saturday and Sunday could not proceed.

In relation to one delivery of 52,000 doses, the company reduced the amount to 26,000 and then to less than 10,000, he said.

Targets

Stressing the achievements of the vaccination programme so far, he said infections among healthcare workers were down 95 per cent and their share of overall infections has fallen from 16 per cent to 4 per cent.

The number of staff out of work due to infection or as contacts has fallen from 1,600 to 1,100, he said. Vaccination of over-85s is “substantially” completed while among other over-70s, 100,000 have received a first dose.

The HSE’s target for vaccinations is to inoculate as many people as quickly as possible, he said. “We can speculate and predict and estimate how many vaccines will arrive but these are purely forecasts and based on commitments from suppliers.”

By the end of March, the HSE expects to receive 690,000 doses of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, 378,000 doses from AstraZeneca and 109,000 from Moderna, he said. Next week, it is planned to vaccinate 75,000-85,000 people, including a final sweep in long-term care facilities, between 7,000 and 11,000 healthcare workers and 15,000-20,000 high risk patients.

About 500 over-85s remain to be vaccinated in the community, along with house-bound older people and those in hospital. Vaccination of house-bound over-70s, estimated to number up to 1,500, begins this week, HSE chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said.

Side effects

There have been 3,484 reports of suspected side-effects among people who were administered Covid-19 vaccines, according to Dr Henry. The figure relates to the 410,000 doses administered up to February 25th.

The most commonly reported suspected side effects are in line with those typically associated with vaccination, he said.

The reports include two of thrombo-embolism, or blood clotting, Dr Henry said, but this did not mean the vaccine cause this..

A number of European countries have suspended vaccinations from a batch of AstraZeneca vaccine after blood-clotting related issues among a small number of people who had received a dose. The batch of 1 million doses of the shot went to 17 EU countries, including Ireland.

Hospitals are set to resume non-Covid services that were suspended during the third wave of the pandemic, Mr Reid said.

The restoration of services will be phased and decisions will be made by individual hospitals based on cases numbers and available capacity.

Mr Reid said he shared the frustrations of the public around vaccine delivery, adding that this was shared by people worldwide.

However, the level of community transmission remains high, the positivity rates has increased to 15 per cent; 24 per cent among contacts of cases and 32 per cent among household contacts.

In education, testing was carried out last in 34 facilities, with 529 tests and a positivity rate of 1.1 per cent.

Outlining the continuing improvement in indicators for the disease, Mr Reid said hospitalised Covid-19 patient numbers were down 27 per cent last week, and ICU numbers fell 15 per cent. Positivity for serial testing in long-term care facilities is 0.2 per cent, the lowest level since last August.

News Digests

Stay on top of the latest newsSIGN UP HERE