The impact of vaccination among young people is driving optimism among senior Government figures and health chiefs that the level of Covid-19 infection in the country is on a downward trajectory.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said on Sunday night that the number of cases among 15-24 year olds had been “coming down significantly and coming down for quite a while”.
He told The Irish Times that cases in these groups, “which were very, very high, have been falling markedly”.
Mr Donnelly said younger people had demonstrated a positive attitude to vaccines.
“We have seen a really positive take-up from the younger age groups. Initially, it was unclear how it would work out [for these age groups] in Ireland and other countries, as these age groups really do get targeted with a lot of misinformation via social media.
“When the 18-25 age group came to vaccination centres, it was clear that some had heard the conspiracy theories and anti-vaxx stuff.”
However, Mr Donnelly said the vast majority had decided to trust the vaccines.
“When we opened the portal for 16-17 year olds there was a very strong take-up.
“With the 12-15 age group we took a different approach, we spoke to the parents, but vaccine centres are reporting that the 12-15 year olds themselves asked to go in. The biggest reason given in centres is kids saying ‘we want to go back to normal’. It has all been really positive.”
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan also attributed the fall to a high vaccine take-up among the young. “The falling case numbers are particularly noticeable in younger age groups which have been trending down.
“It is really encouraging and is starting to have an effect and will help keep those numbers on a downward curve.”
The development comes as a further range of Covid-19 restrictions will be eased from today.
Organised indoor events can take place with limits of 60 per cent of venue capacity where all patrons are immune – fully vaccinated or recovered from Covid-19 within the previous six months. There will be a 75 per cent venue capacity for organised outdoor events.
Live music may commence “having regard to appropriate protective factors”, while cinemas and theatres can operate with up to 60 per cent capacity.
Religious ceremonies can proceed with 50 per cent of venue capacity, regardless of the immunity status of attendees.
A further 1,180 confirmed cases of Covid-19 were reported in the State on Sunday.
In Northern Ireland, a further seven people died from Covid-19, while 1,232 tested positive for the virus.
The head of the HSE’s testing and tracing programme, Niamh O’Beirne, said on Sunday referrals for testing among 15-24 year olds had fallen back to levels experienced among older age groups.
Separately, HSE chief executive Paul Reid on Sunday predicted that the coming week will see 90 per cent of adults fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
However, Mr Donnelly said one concern he continued to have was the increase in cases among older people. “The numbers have been increasing and that is where the risk lies. For example, three-quarters of hospitalisations are over 50 years of age. The median age for mortality for August was 82.
“One of the issues we have is that unvaccinated people are getting very sick.
“There are also underlying issues such as immunocompromised and hypertension, vaccine status, age and underlying conditions,” he said.
The HSE also said on Sunday that there were 800 schools across the country in which a child who had contracted Covid attended.
It said close contacts of these children were now being tested.
About 500 of these children attended a primary school while 300 attended second level.