Coronavirus: Two further deaths bring State’s toll so far to 5,000

Around half of new Covid-19 cases in State suspected to be Delta variant – HSE

Some 4.17 million vaccine doses have been administered to date against Covid-19, according to the HSE. File photograph: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

Some 4.17 million vaccine doses have been administered to date against Covid-19, according to the HSE. File photograph: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

 

Two more people have died after testing positive for Covid-19, according to the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), bringing the total number of deaths in the State since the pandemic to 5,000. A further 448 cases of the disease were also confirmed.

Around half of new Covid-19 cases in the State are suspected to be the Delta variant, according to the Health Service Executive’s (HSE) chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry.

Despite this, Dr Henry said, the overall 14-day incidence rate of the virus remains “very steady”.

Evidence from local public health doctors about the variant indicated that “outbreaks happen a little bit easier,” particularly among younger, unvaccinated people, he said.

In many cases outbreaks were being traced to people congregating outdoors, and then that group spreading the virus further in other settings later, he said.

Previously a rise in cases would have been like “getting a first tremor before an earthquake,” he said, as was the case around last Christmas, ahead of the major third wave in January.

However, he said “much remains unknown” about the possibility of any further surge, due to the high rate of people vaccinated, which provided a “line of defence”.

Worst-case models

The chief executive of the HSE Paul Reid said the potential impact of the pessimistic models of the spread of the Delta variant on the health service, which is still recovering from the recent cyberattack, would be “explosive,”.

Mr Reid said if the recent worst-case scenario projections from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) came to pass, the effects on the health service would be “absolutely massive”.

In the pessimistic scenario, the more transmissible Delta variant could lead to as many as 682,000 cases over July, August and September.

This could lead to as many as 2,170 deaths, and nearly 13,000 hospitalisations, Nphet warned the Government this week.

The impact of any such significant surge of cases, and knock-on hospitalisations, on top of hospitals still recovering from the cyberattack, would be “explosive,” Mr Reid said.

The recent alarm and warnings over the spread of the Delta variant was “hard for many to comprehend,” he told a weekly HSE press briefing.

Officials would “carefully assess” the number of people admitted to hospitals in the UK, following the earlier spread of the new variant there, he said.

At present there were only 44 Covid-19 positive patients in Irish hospitals, with 14 in intensive care.

Vaccination

There have been 4.17 million doses of the vaccine administered to date, with 67 per cent of the eligible population having received a first dose, and 45 per cent now fully vaccinated.

Mr Reid said people should be confident at the pace of the vaccine rollout, but remain “on high alert” about the threat of the new variant.

The HSE briefed Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly on Thursday about how it plans to implement changes to the vaccination programme, recommended by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac).

It was hoped the changes, which will allow people under 40 to receive the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, would be put in place “very quickly,” Mr Reid said.

“We are very anxious that any available vaccines are administered as quickly as possible, to give further protection to the population against Delta,” he said.

Anne O’Connor, HSE chief operations officer, said hospital appointments cancelled due to the cyberattack had only added to an already sizable backlog, as a result of Covid-19.

It was now nearly eight weeks on from the cyberattack and some 80 per cent of HSE IT systems were now back, Ms O’Connor said.

But any further wave of Covid-19, on top of the existing delays in care and treatments due to the cyberattack, would be “seriously concerning,” she said.

Elsewhere, a second Covid-19 mass vaccination centre opened in Co Meath, located at Fairyhouse Racecourse, which will vaccinate 2,000 people a day when fully operational.