Public health advice against non-essential travel and for working from home is to stay in place at least until the end of June, according to deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn.
While the EU is planning to open up travel for people who are vaccinated, have been tested or have had a recent infection, Dr Glynn said there will be “no change” to the advice of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) against international travel before the end of June.
People should also continue working from home for at least the next four months, he told a Nphet briefing on Thursday, as there was a “real and significant” benefit to this in terms of controlling the disease.
Dr Glynn said a “cautious approach” was needed until June so that another wave of the disease was avoided.
No further deaths of Covid-19 patients have been reported by Nphet. This leaves at 4,566 the total number of deaths in the pandemic.
Nphet reported 582 confirmed cases of the disease, bringing to 228,796 the total number of cases in the Republic.
Of the new cases, 262 were in Dublin, 41 in Galway, 34 in Meath, 23 in Waterford, 22 in Limerick and 19 in Donegal, with the remaining 181 cases spread across 20 other counties. *
The 14-day incidence of the disease now stands at 151 cases per 100,000 people nationally. Offaly has the highest county incidence, followed by Longford. Leitrim has the lowest incidence.
The median age of cases is 32 years and 74 per cent are under 45.
The reproduction number, a measure of how many other people a case infects, stands at between 0.8 and 1.1, according to Prof Philip Nolan, chair of the Nphet epidemiological modelling advisory group.
Case counts and other indicators of the disease are in a “period of stasis,” Prof Nolan said.
The plateauing of figures over the past 10 days is clearly linked to an increase in mobility, congregation and social mixing that began at the end of last month, he said.
The number of patients hospitalised daily has also been static, at about 20-25 per day, since the start of this month.
Prof Nolan said there were “clear and significant” increases in attendance at workplaces, with people spending less time at home.
He said it was not clear what was going to happen next. Cases are plateaux at a high level and the population remains at high risk.
Among age groups, the incidence is highest among 19-24 year-olds and lowest among over-65s.
There has been a further increase in the number of cases involving variants of concern, the briefing heard. There are now 24 cases of B1351, first identified in South Africa, up from 15. There are seven cases of the P1 variant first identified in Brazil, up from six.
Some 11 cases of the B1525 variant under investigation, first identified in New York, have been found here.
The briefing heard a number of examples of recent extended outbreaks in the mid-west. In one, six households were hit as a result of inter-household mixing, resulting in over 20 cases.
“It’s what happens when people visit each other for cups of tea, a beer or a chat, and aren’t protected,” said public health doctor Dr Mai Mannix.
One of the cases brought the disease into their workplace, resulting in five more cases. One of those cases brought it home where the rest of the household was infected.
In a second example, one case caused 30 others in a healthcare setting. One of these cases was brought home and spread to the family, and to other members of the extended family via a funeral.
In a third case, involving 40 cases in a workplace setting, Dr Mannix said there appeared to have been slippage, when staff congregated at smoking breaks, which encouraged the wider spread of the virus.
On Thursday morning, 345 Covid-19 patients were hospitalised, of which 83 were in ICU. There were 24 additional hospitalisations in the previous 24 hours.
Up to Monday, 620,580 doses of vaccine had been administered in Ireland: 455,182 first doses and 165,398 second doses.
Earlier on Thursday, HSE chief executive Paul Reid said the reduction in the numbers of people in hospital with Covid-19 had "stalled".
On Thursday morning there were 345 people in hospital – the same number as a week ago. Mr Reid said the number of people with Covid-19 last week was up 6 per cent on the previous week.
“The brakes have been put on,” he said, although the numbers in intensive care units (ICU) at 82 were down 11 per cent on last week.
Of the 7,048 cases last week, 26 per cent of cases were among those aged 18 and under, 46 per cent were those aged 19-44 and 8.6 per cent in the over-65s.
Mr Reid said he anticipated that 240,000-250,000 people over the age of 70 would be vaccinated by the end of next week.
Some 70,000-75,000 vaccines are to be administered next week to those in the 75-79 age cohort.
The rollout had been affected by the halting of use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which on Thursday afternoon, the European Medicines Agency approved for use again.
Speaking ahead of the EMA’s decision being announced, Mr Reid said the HSE “will respond quickly to whatever decision is made” in relation to the safety of the Covid-19 vaccine.
The rollout of the vaccine in nursing homes meant that the number of residents testing positive last week for Covid-19 was 0.21 per cent, the lowest number since August 8th.
The number of open outbreaks in nursing homes this month to date has been 19 compared with 60 in February and 139 in January.
The number of healthcare workers with Covid-19, which peaked at 1,000 during the surge in January, fell to 14 last week with a lot of hospital groups reporting no infections among staff.
* This article was edited on March 19th, 2021