Coronavirus: 17 more deaths and 557 further cases in the State

Pause of AstraZeneca rollout shows checks are working, says Scally

A further 17 deaths related to Covid-19 and 557 new confirmed cases of the disease have been reported by the Department of Health.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) said that nine of the deaths occurred in March, four in February and four in January or earlier.

Total Covid-19 deaths in the State stand at 4,566.

Hospital Report

The latest fatalities range in age from 51 to 94 years, with the median age was 81 years.

The new confirmed infections bring the total known number of cases to 228,215.

The number of reported deaths and new cases have fluctuated in recent weeks as public health doctors have expressed concern about the continuing high number of infections and warnings were made about increased social mixing over St Patrick’s Day on Wednesday.

Of the new cases, 74 per cent were under the age of 45 with the median age being 29.

The most cases at 229 were reported in Dublin, followed by 58 in Kildare, 34 in Donegal, 31 in Meath, 24 in Tipperary and the remaining 181 cases spread across all other counties.

The number of people in hospital with Covid-19 stood at 350 - down from a high of 2,020 in mid-January at the peak of the third wave.

There were 19 further hospitalisations over the previous 24 hours. There were 83 people in hospital intensive care units, down from 221 in January.

The counties with the highest incidence rate of the disease, per 100,000 people, were Offaly, Longford, Kildare and Dublin. The lowest were Kerry, Cork, Kilkenny and Leitrim.

The latest vaccination figures show that 617,050 doses have been administered as of March 14th, including 452,554 people who have received their first doses and, of those, 164,496 people who have received their second.

Northern Ireland’s health department reported no Covid-19 deaths in a short daily bulletin issued on Wednesday afternoon. It said there were 161 new confirmed cases of coronavirus in the North.

So far in Northern Ireland 640,801 people have received a first dose of Covid-19 vaccines while 63,946 have got a second jab.

Earlier, public health physician Dr Gabriel Scally said the decision to pause the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine was a sign of a functioning and “very very cautious” immunisation advisory committee.

He said he did not believe the suspension would lead to a huge blow to confidence in the vaccine but represented a “vote of confidence in a functioning national advisory system”.

Preparations are now underway to resume administration of the AstraZeneca jab amid optimism that the European Medicines Agency (EMA) will give it safety clearance on Thursday.

On Sunday the Government announced it would suspend its use of the vaccine on advice from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac). The advisory committee was reacting to reports from Norway of four instances of serious blood clotting in adults who had received the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab.

Dr Scally said the willingness of Niac to delay immunisation when concerns are raised shows it is “very very cautious” and “proactive in speaking out”.

“If there is even a question being raised they want to pause, look at the data, scrutinise the evidence, and then hopefully restart, as we will tomorrow or the next day,” he told Newstalk’s Breakfast radio programme on Wednesday.

On potential celebratory gatherings for St Patrick’s Day, Dr Scally said people meeting up with friends from outside their household, particularly in intimate settings, creates a “big issue”.

Asked about mixing celebrations with alcohol, he said: “The pint isn’t the problem, it is the physical proximity and the closeness to people who you don’t live with… Stick with people you live with and enjoy the outdoors, but not with large groups and not with people you don’t live with.”

‘Signals of concern’

Cork-based family doctor Nuala O’Connor, who is Covid Lead for the Irish College of General Practitioners, said there are “some signals of concern” that show progress in reducing case numbers has stalled and the disease could potentially surge again if people do not stick to the public health guidelines.

The GP community tracker is showing that the number of people with Covid-19 symptoms had levelled off: “the reduction is not continuing”.

“We have heard about multiple people planning to get together indoors, particularly about playdates with children… If we give this virus an opportunity to resurge it certainly will, and we know this virus loves when people get together,” Dr O’Connor told RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland programme.

Some parents seemed to think such meetings would not do harm, but this virus spreads when people start to socialise, she said.

For now, the State remains in Level 5 restrictions which only allows for outdoor meetings with one other household for exercise purposes.

While there has not been an increase in the numbers presenting with flu-like symptoms, the positivity rate of those tested has increased from 9.7 per cent to 13.9 per cent over the last two weeks.

There were 205 family outbreaks in private households last week, including 31 among extended families, according to the latest HSE weekly outbreak report.

Dr O’Connor appealed to people to enjoy St Patrick’s Day safely. Meeting outside was always safer than meeting inside, but there was a temptation for groups to break the two-metre distance, she said.

“Our message to people is to get outdoors, to enjoy the outdoors but to do it safely,” she said, adding that masks should be worn outdoors if the area is crowded.

“Things are going largely in the right direction; our vaccine programme is accelerating, but for the most part we really need to focus on staying apart to stay safe,” she said.