Reopening of schools has had ‘minimal’ impact on Covid-19 case numbers - Nphet

Seven further deaths and 400 new cases reported on Thursday evening

Members of the Defence Forces at the Citywest Covid-19 vaccination centre in Dublin. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

Members of the Defence Forces at the Citywest Covid-19 vaccination centre in Dublin. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

 

The reopening of schools has had a “minimal” impact on Covid-19 case numbers, according to the National Public Health Emergency Team.

Education has been associated with a “moderate and transient” increase in incidence over the past month, but this is mostly explained by changes in testing, according to Prof Philip Nolan, chair of the Nphet epidemiological modelling advisory group.

Cases among young children were now stabilising or declining, he said, though the situation was “complicated”.

Most of the fluctuations seen in March were due to changes in the way people were tested rather than the level of infection.

“All the evidence points to a modest increase in young children in latter March being associated with an increase in testing which began when they returned to school and stopped when they closed, rather than being associated with education per se.”

However, he warned about a “paradoxical” side-effect of the re-opening of schools that saw more people return to the workplace, and said this was a cause for concern.

The overall situation is stable and “potentially improving” but still quite uncertain, he summarised.

“We’re at least stable. There is potential that there is some improvement but it will be another week before we can tell that,” said Prof Nolan.

“It looks like it’s all going in the right direction but we need to give it another week” to see there is no increase in close contacts or infections, said assistant chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn.

Some of the uncertainty relates to Easter but Prof Nolan said there was no sign yet of additional people seeking testing or hospital admission since then.

Under new rules agreed by Nphet, healthcare workers who are vaccinated will no longer have to restrict their movement if they are close contacts of a case.

However, this change will not yet apply to the wider population as Nphet has asked the Health Protection Surveillance Centre for guidance on the issue.

Variants

The number of cases of the P1 variant first identified in Brazil has increased to 19, while the B1351 variant associated with South Africa has risen to 43.

Between 10 and 15 per cent of cases involving these and other variants of concern involve community transmission, according to Dr Cillian de Gascun, director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory.

There are also 16 cases of B1525 first found in Nigeria, five cases of B1525 (New York) and 14 cases of P2, also linked to Brazil.

Dr Glynn said Ireland was “weeks” away from having the majority of the population protected by vaccines but it was important this was not threatened through the importation of variants.

A further seven deaths of Covid-19 patients were reported by Nphet on Thursday. This brings to 4,737 the total number of deaths in the pandemic.

Two of the deaths occurred in April, two in March and three in February.

Those who died ranged in age from 62 to 89 years and the median age was 78.

Nphet also reported 400 new confirmed cases of the disease, bringing to 239,723 the total number of cases in the Republic.

Of the new cases, 162 were in Dublin, 61 in Kildare, 26 in Cork, 21 in Galway, and 17 in Donegal with the remaining cases spread across 18 other counties.

The 14-day incidence of the disease now stands at 147 cases per 100,000 people nationally. Offaly has the highest county incidence, followed by Westmeath. Sligo has the lowest incidence

The median age of cases is 35 years and 72 per cent are under 45 years.

Milestone

The reproduction number, a measure of how many other people a case infects, now stands at “very close to, or just below 1”, according to Prof Nolan.

On Thursday morning, 226 Covid-19 patients were hospitalised, of which 55 were in ICU. There were 11 additional hospitalisations in the previous 24 hours.

By Monday, 940,883 doses of vaccine have been administered: 667,182 first doses and 273,701 people have had second doses.

Earlier on Thursday the HSE confirmed the one millionth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine has been administered in the State.

It said the milestone was reached on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said mandatory hotel quarantine would be extended to other countries once legal challenges and capacity requirements were met.

He said the Government was “at one” on the need to respond to the advice of public health experts to keep variants of Covid-19 out of Ireland.

There had been many meetings between the Departments of Health, Justice, Transport and Foreign Affairs on the extension of the number of countries for whom mandatory quarantine would be necessary, he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

The leak of the extended list of countries before plans were ready was “unfortunate,” he added. Mr Coveney said the Government needed to ensure that there would be capacity to deal with the significant issues that would arise“before we announced the list of countries”.

‘Unacceptable’

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly described reports that board members at the Mater hospital were offered a Covid-19 vaccine as “completely unacceptable.”

He told Newstalk’s Pat Kenny show that the vaccine rollout programme was going “really well” but that “completely unacceptable situations with the board of the Mater, for example, with the Beacon Hospital, for example, schools in south Dublin/north Wicklow CHO. They’re a tiny, tiny fraction of the million doses that will be administered – but they do undermine confidence.”

Dr Mary Favier, former president of the Irish College of General Practitioners and member of the National Public Health Emergency Team, expressed disappointment that people in positions of leadership had taken the Covid-19 vaccine out of sequence.

When asked about the case of directors at the Mater hospital receiving the vaccine, Dr Favier said she did not know details of the specific cases, but that it was “very disappointing”. People in positions of leadership needed to show that they believed in the system of prioritisation, she said on RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.

Mr Donnelly also said he is very open to allowing fully vaccinated people attend concerts and other events.

He said the EU was working on a green certificate that would enable vaccinated or immune people to travel within the single market. However, he said we was open to easing other restrictions on vaccinated people.