Covid: 6,307 further cases as CMO tells young people he is not ‘finger pointing’

Nphet did not leak letter for Cabinet on restriction advice, chief medical officer says

The Department of Health has reported 6,307 new cases of Covid-19. The number of patients being treated in hospital was 429 as of 8am on Wednesday, it said, with 100 in ICU.

It was also announced that there has now been a total of 5,890 deaths related to Covid-19 notified in Ireland with 55 of these newly notified in the past week.

The latest figures were published a matter of hours after chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said that his call for young people to limit their social contacts was not "finger pointing".

The rapid rise in cases in the 16-34 age group was happening not just in Ireland, but also in the UK and across Europe. The spread of the virus in that cohort was an epidemiological fact, he told RTÉ radio's Today with Philip Boucher-Hayes programme.

He said the restrictions imposed throughout large parts of the pandemic have been “selectively targeted towards young people”, as the activities that people within that age cohort partake in create environments that allow the virus to transmit.

Dr Holohan said the virus often spreads in young people first and he acknowledged that the last two years have been “really challenging” for that group.

The chief medical officer pointed out that one in six young people were not yet vaccinated and that a million people over the age of 40 had not yet come forward for their booster dose. Anyone who has not yet been vaccinated or received their booster vaccine should do so, he urged.

Separately, Dr Holohan said he does not believe that the leak of his letter to the Cabinet last week recommending further restrictions came from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet).

Only a few members had seen the letter before it was sent to Cabinet, he said, as not all team members have access to such communications.

The key thing was that the decision had been made and that measures were being taken to reduce spread of the virus, he added. “It is now down to us.”

Dr Holohan said Ireland is facing a “very significant surge” of cases of Covid, and the new Omicron variant was spreading much more rapidly than any variant seen before.

There were 431 patients with Covid-19 in hospital on Wednesday morning, according to official figures, of whom 100 were being treated in intensive care, as of 11.30am.

Limit contacts

Dr Holohan said that while it was not the message that Nphet wanted to give, it was asking people to limit social contacts as much as possible in the coming week.

He also advised members of the public to use antigen tests in the run up to Christmas, but said they should not act as a replacement for other public health measures.

There was “a substantial job to do” to administer the booster vaccine to those over 40 who were at risk of severe infection, he warned, and he called on them to come forward.

“Vaccines really work, particularly when boosted, in preventing infection from becoming a severe infection and we expect that to be the case with Omicron. Don’t put off the opportunity to be vaccinated if it comes your way.”

The vaccine programme was continuing with records being broken every day, he said. “We still maintain an open vaccine programme in delivering a first vaccine or booster if it’s now your turn.”

Nphet was still awaiting “convincing data” about the severity of symptoms from Omicron particularly in northern Europe, he said. However, even if infection was less severe for an individual, if there were many more people infected there would be more pressure on the health services, he warned.

Not acting until there were more hospitalisations would be too late, he added.

Booster rollout

On the same programme the Covid lead for the Irish College of General Practitioners, Dr Mary Favier warned that GPs could not continue administering vaccines indefinitely as there was a need to return to primary and community care.

It was appropriate to focus on vaccines this week and this month, she said.The highest priority is not to waste any vaccines, she said, adding that if doses are left over at the end of the day “we will call anyone in off the road with a spare arm so we don’t waste a dose”.

The medic added that the removal of the 15-minute observation period post-jab has really helped to speed up the process.

Dr Favier said in terms of Covid symptoms, there are two cohorts of patients attending practices in light of the Christmas period.

There are those who are presenting with a slight tickle in the back of the throat who are “very anxious” about the upcoming festive period and want a test immediately, she said, adding that there is a separate group who really don’t want a PCR test, including some people who tested positive with an at-home antigen test.