Further 1,380 Covid-19 cases reported as number hospitalised rises sharply

Taoiseach and Minister say Coalition not contemplating imposing new restrictions

The Department of Health said there were 459 people being treated for Covid-19 in hospital on Sunday (up 53 in 24 hours).  Photograph: Alan Betson

The Department of Health said there were 459 people being treated for Covid-19 in hospital on Sunday (up 53 in 24 hours). Photograph: Alan Betson

 

A further 1,380 cases of Covid-19 have been reported on Sunday as Government members said they were not contemplating the reimposition of pandemic restrictions in the State.

The Department of Health said there were 459 people being treated for the disease in hospital on Sunday (up 53 in 24 hours) and that this included 74 patients in intensive care units (up three in 24 hours).

HSE chief executive Paul Reid said hospitalisations with Covid-19 had increased by about 40 per cent in the last 2½ to three weeks. He told RTÉ radio’s This Week that 60 per cent of those being treated were over-65 but that there was “a significant mix” across all age groups.

He said 65 per cent of those in intensive were unvaccinated. He called on those who had not had a jab yet to do so as they were putting themselves, their families and communities at risk.

Despite the recent increase in case numbers and test positivity ahead of the planned removal of most remaining restrictions from Friday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin told the Sunday Independent that new curbs were not coming.

However, he could not guarantee that Friday’s lifting of restrictions will proceed in entirety given the trajectory of the disease.

“We do not want to go back, and we are not contemplating going backwards,” he said. “The only issue facing us now is going forward and that is a decision we will make on the advice we receive from Nphet [the National Public Health Emergency Team].”

Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys told RTÉ’s The Week in Politics that while there was concern “about the rising numbers...we’re not going back. That’s important to say”.

Retention of certs

Nphet will meet on Monday to consider what recommendations it will make to Cabinet in relation to Friday’s planned easing up.

Alongside an outright pause of planned curbing of restrictions, it’s thought options to be considered will include the retention of distancing measures in indoor settings such as bars and restaurants through the winter. A structured reopening of still-closed sectors such as nightclubs may be favoured, again with the retention of vaccination certs.

Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman said he would support the continued use of vaccine certificates if this is recommended by Nphet.

“I think we’re all concerned at the increased levels of Covid infections in the last two weeks. But I think there is a strong desire that we do want to as far as is safe continue the reopening of society,” he told RTÉ’s This Week, adding that enforcement around vaccine cert use in pubs and restaurants needed to be stronger.

World Health Organisation spokeswoman Margaret Harris on Sunday said some people who are vaccinated against Covid-19 are falling into a trap of thinking “they can do what they like”.

“We still have to behave in a way that assumes we are infectious. That is a struggle because people are really really sick of the restrictions. And I am not saying we should all be in lockdown,” she told Newstalk’s On the Record programme.

“But we need to behave in a way that prevents infections. So keep up the distancing, avoid the crowding, really ventilate our closed spaces and where those masks.”

Booster shots

Ms Harris also expressed concern about the possible use of the finite number of Covid-19 vaccines to provide booster doses to some people who do not need them at this stage.

“We do agree with having a third primary dose in certain groups. That is people who are very immunocompromised, people who are very elderly in their 80s or so on,” she said. “We want to see the two primary doses given in the rest of the world before the boosters are distributed widely.”

The National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) is set to meet on Monday to consider whether the booster programme should be expanded beyond the over-80 age cohort and those with suppressed immunity.

Mr Reid said the HSE was awaiting Niac’s advice and to learn if waning vaccine protection was a factor behind increased case numbers.

He said, if supported by Niac, he would like to see healthcare workers given an extra level of protection as there have been some outbreaks in health settings of late. He said he did not believe it was necessary to making vaccines mandatory for health workers given the vast majority had been inoculated.

Vaccines effective

Meanwhile, virologist and Nphet member Dr Cillian De Gascun said Ireland would continue to see rising Covid-19 case numbers as restrictions ease, but this does not mean vaccines are not effective.

In a series of Twitter posts on Saturday night,he said the vaccines were “not sufficiently effective – on their own – to suppress or eliminate” Covid-19 transmission in the community. However, he said they were “very effective at protecting against hospitalisation and severe disease”.

He said that while vaccine uptake has been high among those aged 12 and older, only about 75 to 80 per cent of the population as a whole are vaccinated.

While vaccination reduces the risk of Delta infection, fully vaccinated individuals have viral loads “similar to unvaccinated and can efficiently transmit infection in household settings, including to fully vaccinated contacts,” he added.

Northern Ireland’s Department of Health on Sunday reported four more Covid-19-linked deaths and 966 further positive tests.

The latest figures show 348 patients with Covid-19 are in the North’s hospitals, including 37 in intensive care. – Additional reporting: PA