Ireland has the fastest improving incidence of Covid-19 in Europe

News on vaccine trial a positive first step, says director of National Virus Reference Laboratory

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan has called on members of the public to refrain from wearing visors and to instead wear face coverings. Video: RTÉ

 

Ireland has the fastest improving incidence of Covid-19 in Europe, with a 43 per cent drop in the past two weeks, according to the National Public Health Emergency Team.

Ireland’s performance is notable for the overall progress being made in reducing transmission, according to deputy chief medical officer Dr Desmond Hickey. The 14-day incidence has dropped 23 per cent in the past week, and only Belgium and Malta are also currently managing to reduce transmission.

Dr Hickey said that while cases were growing in most European countries there were signs of potential stabilisation in some.

The European Centre for Disease Control will this week issue guidance on the variant of Covid-19 that has been identified on mink farms in Denmark, according to chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan.

The issue, which arose after a variant of the virus infected mink farm workers after the animals themselves had been infected by humans, has prompted travel curbs across Europe and serial testing on the three Irish mink farms.

But Dr Cillian de Gascun, director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory, said it was “far too early to be overly concerned’ about the issue.

In a worst-case scenario, he said, the mutated strain could prove resistant to a new vaccine when developed, he said. However, to have a significant impact it would need to become the dominant strain globally and this was unlikely.

The death of one further patient with Covid-19 has been reported by Nphet. This brings to 1,948 the total number of deaths in the State in this pandemic.

Nphet also reported a further 270 confirmed cases of the disease on Monday, bringing to 65,659 the total number of cases in the Republic.

‘Positive first step’

The latest cases were reported on a day when it emerged a Covid-19 vaccine being developed by Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech has been found to be more than 90 per cent effective.

The finding was the result of the first independent analysis of any Covid-19 vaccine in phase 3 trials — the final stage before commercial licensing. The study found that 94 participants who received the two-dose vaccine were protected against the disease 28 days after their first inoculation.

Dr de Gascun said news about the vaccine trial was a very positive first step.

“Certainly it’s positive. At over 90 per cent effective, if that holds true in the real world it will be a very good start,” he said.

He cautions that the vaccine under development by Pfizer required two doses so this posed potential challenges. It also handled and transported at minus 80 degrees “so it could be difficult to roll out”.

“It’s not going to be a global solution but it’s certainly a very positive first step,” he told the Nphet briefing on Monday.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said officials needed to see reliable data made available to regulators and published in the scientific literature.

“We’re hopeful but it’s certainly not a time for celebration,” he remarked, adding that people needed to stick to the basic public health measures.

When there were vaccines whose effectiveness was known, along with their effect on people, Ireland will be able to organise the distribution of supplies as part of the joint procurement arrangements we have with the EU, he said.

Dr Holohan said a lot of “anticipatory planning work” has gone on behind the scenes in advance of the arrival of a vaccine and “when the time is right we’ll set out the details”.

Much will depend on the vaccine being supplied and the specific conditions that need to be observed for its supply, he said. “There are a lot of issue in relation to this vaccine that are yet to be known, regarding the ultimate effectiveness, the number of doses and logistical issues regarding cold-chain supply,” he pointed out.

Regulatory approval would proceed through the European Medicines Agency. “We’ll wait for their assessment as the data become available.

Measures

Monday’s new cases include 103 in Dublin, 34 in Limerick, 20 in Donegal, 12 in Cork, nine in Kerry, nine in Kilkenny and 83 spread across 20 other counties.

Nphet is working on planning the kind of measures that might be put in place after the current Level 5 restrictions are due to end in December, Dr Holohan said.

This advice, which has not been finalised, would be provided to Government in due course, according to Dr Holohan, who declined to be drawn on what easing of measures might take place in the run-up to Christmas.

He said there was “nothing inevitable” about a third wave of the disease, and people could influence what happened, and how it happened, through their public health behaviours.

Dublin remained a concern, as the reduction in incidence there is still lower than in the rest of the country. He also expressed concern about recent outbreaks associated with funerals, and with healthcare settings.

On Monday afternoon, there were 291 Covid-19 patients in hospital, including 39 in ICU. Twelve additional hospitalisations occurred in the past 24 hours.

There have been 18 Covid-19 related deaths so far this month, compared to 117 in October and 36 in September.

Ireland has the fourth lowest incidence of the disease in Europe, behind Estonia, Norway and Finland. Last week, it had the lowest figures.

The current 14-day incidence nationally is 161 cases per 100,000 people, according to Nphet. Donegal has the highest incidence at 275.8, followed by Limerick at 213.4. Dublin, where case numbers are falling more slowly than in the rest of the State, ranks sixth among counties with an incidence of 173.7.

Leitrim has the lowest incidence, at 37.4.

A further ten Covid-19 deaths and 471 new cases were also recorded by the North’s health department on Monday.