Covid-19: Two deaths and 769 new cases, highest in three weeks

Mandatory hotel quarantine may come into effect with few days, Minister says

HSE chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said  ‘there is a lot of illness out there . . .  and it is much higher than it was in early December’. File photograph Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

HSE chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said ‘there is a lot of illness out there . . . and it is much higher than it was in early December’. File photograph Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

 

Two more deaths linked to Covid-19 and 769 new cases of the virus have been reported by the National Public Health Emergency Team on Sunday.

It is the highest number of cases reported since February 26th and is further evidence of a stalling in the rate of decline on new cases.

Nphet said the five-day moving average is now 587, from 559 on this day last week. The 5-day moving average on March 7th was 520.

The stubbornly high case numbers are likely to complicate plans being considered by the Cabinet for changes to the current restrictions after April 5th.

While there is pressure to ease the current 5km travel limit, several Ministers said last week if Covid-19 case numbers are still high next month, it could mean the current 5km travel restriction would be expanded, but only to 10 or perhaps 8km.

Current plans envisage easing the limit to allow for travel within county boundaries.

Three-quarters of the new cases on Sunday were people aged under 45-years-old, with a median age of 32.

The 769 new cases of the disease bring the number of confirmed cases to 230,599.

Of the new cases, 284 were in Dublin, 67 in Donegal, 47 in Offaly, 45 in Meath, 44 in Kildare, with the remaining 282 cases spread across 20 other counties.

In a statement the Nphet said both deaths occurred in March.

As of 8am on Sunday there were 360 in hospital with Covid-19, of which 82 are in ICU.

Earlier, the HSE’s chief clinical officer said the country was seeing a “definite stagnation” in the number of Covid-19 cases.

Dr Colm Henry said on Sunday there was “a stubbornly high level of new cases” being identified every day, of the order of 500 - 600.

He said the 14-day incidence, which was used as another metric, was showing about 150 cases of the virus “which again has stagnated.”

He said the “R” or reproduction value was stuck on one, which meant the disease was stable or increasing.

Dr Henry told RTÉ’s This Week programme on Sunday there were some signals of concern that sometimes anticipated a deterioration in case numbers, including an increase in the number of referrals from GPs for Covid testing.

“There is a lot of illness out there and it has not gone away, and it is much higher than it was in early December. So long as we see that illness out there it is going to convert into an on-going stream of admissions into hospitals and that is what we are seeing.”

Dr Henry said there was no evidence the return to school for some children had played into the stagnation in the rate of infection.

Separately, Minister of State at the Department of Further and Higher Education Niall Collins told the same programme that the introduction of mandatory hotel quarantine or people entering Ireland from a number of countries may come into effect within a number of days.

He said the legislation on this issue had been signed into law and talks had been taking place with a single operator who would provide the entire quarantine service.

Mr Collins said he did not think gardaí would be stationed at hotels being used for the quarantine programme. However, he said gardaí might be involved if there was a breach of laws or guideline.

He said a private provider would provide the quarantine service with the Department of Defence and the defence forces providing planning and logistical support.

Dr Henry suggested that the 30,000 people who had been due to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine before the process was temporarily suspended last weekend, would be vaccinated now within seven to 10 days.

Dr Henry said the HSE was not in a position to offer an alternative to the AstraZeneca vaccine to people in the category of having underlying medical conditions.

As of March 18th, 654,251 doses of Covid-19 vaccine have been administered in the State, with 478,725 people receiving a first dose and 175,526 their second.

He said the HSE was confident on basis of real world experience that this was a safe and effective vaccine.

Separately, the chief executive of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) Susan Clyne said the programme for providing vaccines to persons over the age of 70 was “on track”.

“By mid-April all over 70s will have received their first dose and by mid-May all over 70 population will have received their second dose and be fully immunised.

Ms Clyne said the supply was always the constraint and was confident these targets would be met based on the supply lines that had been advised to doctors at the moment.

“If that changes, that creates difficulties,” she said.

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