Covid-19 vaccination programme approaches ‘final furlong’ as 1,361 new cases reported

Colm Henry says further evidence required before declaring ‘true plateau’ in daily cases

Dr Colm Henry, chief clinical officer of the HSE. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

Dr Colm Henry, chief clinical officer of the HSE. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

 

The Health Service Executive (HSE) has reported early signs that the current wave of coronavirus is beginning to plateau as the national vaccination programme moves into the “final furlong”.

The heath authority also said highest proportion of close contact Covid-19 cases in the past week were picked up during travel by car, bus or train. That marks a change from earlier phases of the pandemic, when the highest degree of close contact infections was attributed to households.

Despite some positive indications on the pace of the current wave, the HSE said it is still too early to say definitively that a plateau had been reached.

“It’s quite early and if it is a true plateau we want to see further evidence of that,” Colm Henry, HSE clinical director, told a press conference. “Only time will tell.”

Reporting a five-day moving average of 1,264 cases per day in the week to July 26th, Dr Henry said the HSE had feared the situation would be worse but noted that the number of cases was still rising.

A further 1,361 cases of Covid-19 were reported in the Republic on Thursday. The number of people in hospital with Covid-19 currently stands at 160, and 26 of those are in ICU.

“Last week we were worried that we would possibly reach 2,000 cases per day this week. It doesn’t appear likely now,” he said.

“There is a sense maybe of the brakes beginning to take but we won’t know for another couple of weeks.”

Niamh O’Beirne, lead official for Covid testing and contact tracing, reported “very strong demand” for testing but said demand had steadied in the past week. “When we look at close contacts, households does remain the largest portion of close contacts at 45 per cent,” she said.

“But this week for one of the first times they’re not the highest in terms of positivity level. Transport is the highest positivity. That means non-flight related transport: that’s cars, buses, trains.”

The type of close contact with the next highest positivity levels were arose from household and then social contacts.

Paul Reid, the HSE chief executive, said hospitals remained under strain and warned “we’re not out of the woods” with the Delta coronavirus variant, which now accounts for more than 90 per cent of infections.

“Today we’re at 160 Covid-positive patients in hospital, 26 in ICU. The number of confirmed patients with Covid in hospitals is up 60 per cent compared to when we were talking to you this time last week,” he said.

“The number of confirmed cases in ICU is up 18 per cent compared to this time last week, thankfully off a lower base. So while the figures aren’t alarming in themselves, they are a cause of continued concern for us as they continue to rise and rise at a time when we have significant pressures and stress on our hospitals.”

Mr Reid said the high levels of vaccination uptake had provided a “glide-path to some level of normality”, adding that the programme was approaching its “final furlong” after the decision to inoculate children aged 12 and above.

“I think the public should have great grounds for optimism based on what’s happening in the vaccination programme,” he said.

Some 76 per cent of cases in the last two weeks remain in the under-35 age category, the age cohort with the lowest proportion of vaccinations due to the priority given to older more vulnerable age groups at the outset. “Only a very small proportion (2.8 per cent) of cases were in the 65 and over age group showing the protective effect of the vaccines especially in the more vulnerable groups,” the HSE said.

“The current age profile of Covid confirmed patients is a decade younger than the Wave 3 average [in January]