Ireland has entered a "hopeful week" in the fight against Covid-19 and could see its way toward a further easing of restrictions, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan has said.
Nine deaths of Covid-19 patients have been reported by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) on Tuesday. This means 4,929 have died during the pandemic.
The team also reported 379 confirmed cases of the disease, bringing to 253,567 the total number of cases in the Republic.
The fatality rate is fast approaching 5,000, currently at 4,929, while infection rates have reached 253,567, but the accelerating vaccine rollout is bringing renewed confidence in the course of the pandemic.
“This week is a hopeful week and one that we have all been looking forward to,” Dr Holohan said on publication of the latest data.
“We have gotten to this point by working together in following the public health advice and reducing incidence of disease in our communities.”
Dr Holohan underscored the need to refocus on public health measures, with the two primary targets now vaccination and low transmission rates in the weeks ahead. If Ireland could do so, it would get to “a very different risk environment” and a further easing of measures.
“We can plan to meet friends and family where it is safe to do so and those who have been vaccinated can have confidence in their vaccine. They are now able to get out and about and enjoy the benefits,” he said.
Early on Tuesday morning there were 117 patients in hospital of which 34 were in intensive care. There were 20 additional hospitalisations in the preceding 24 hour periods.
Tuesday’s infections were found among 190 men and 185 women with 77 per cent under the age of 45. The median age was 29.
There were 171 cases in Dublin, 27 in Donegal, 28 in Kildare, 24 in Limerick, 22 in Cork and the remaining 107 spread across 18 other counties.
As of Sunday, 1,848,747 doses of vaccine had been administered, broken down into 1,347,561 first doses and 501,186 second doses.
Of the new cases reported on Tuesday 171 were in Dublin, 27 in Donegal, 28 in Kildare, 24 in Limerick, 22 in Cork and the remaining 107 cases are spread across 18 other counties.
In Northern Ireland on Tuesday there was one more death linked to Covid-19, bringing the toll in the region since the onset of this pandemic to 2,148.
An additional 89 people tested positive, bringing the total confirmed cases to 121,111.
Stormont’s Department of Health also announced that more than half a million people have received their second vaccine jab.
Minister for Health Robin Swann said the milestone was “hugely encouraging. The availability of the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines has played a huge role in our battle against Covid-19.”
Meanwhile, critical comments from public health officials on rapid-antigen Covid-19 tests sold in supermarkets were not helpful, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said.
Philip Nolan, chairman of the National Public Health Emergency Team's modelling group, recently likened antigen tests being advertised and sold by Lidl as similar to "snake oil".
State chief medical officer Tony Holohan has also said the public health emergency team is “genuinely concerned” about the kits being sold by supermarkets, and then used in uncontrolled circumstances as they could inspire false confidence.
Speaking after Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, Mr Donnelly said further guidance would be issued to the public around the use of store-bought antigen tests.
“My view is antigen testing has an important role to play, it is not a panacea, it is not a magic bullet or a silver bullet, it is one of the tools we can use,” he said.
The rapid Covid-19 tests are regarded as less accurate than the PCR test used by the Health Service Executive to detect infections.
Addressing Prof Nolan’s comments, Mr Donnelly said: “I don’t think it was a helpful comment if I’m honest . . . I have great respect for Prof Nolan and I have no doubt that his concern was around people using them in the wrong way.”
The Minister said the Government had committed to using antigen tests in several pilot projects, such as on third-level campuses and in meat processing plants. He said public health officials had expressed concerns that inaccurate negative results from the tests could give people “a false sense of security”.
Mr Donnelly said there are “mixed views” around the use of store-bought rapid tests. He added he did not think the Lidl adverts, selling the tests in a bundle alongside BBQ supplies, were helpful.
Separately, he said the Government was still awaiting advice from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) on the possibility of expanding the use of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine to the under-50s.
“It’s not so much a delay, Niac are looking at it, they are weighing up the pros and cons, in terms of the impact on the programme and the vaccines themselves,” said Mr Donnelly.
Niac had not “flagged any issues” in terms of the expert body requiring extra secretariat or staff support, he said.
He also said maternity hospitals had been asked to provide rationale for continued restrictions on pregnant women’s partners attending scans and appointments.
“My own view is we need visitation to be as broad as possible, it has been very very difficult for mums, it has been very difficult for partners as well,” he said.
Restrictions may continue in maternity hospitals where there is “very localised rationale”, such as an outbreak in the facility, or a high rate of the virus in the surrounding community, he said.