The Department of Health have reported 1,627 new cases of Covid-19 as of 8am on Thursday, with 415 people being treated in hospital, 70 of them in ICU, as concerns over the escalating number of infections, and consequent risk to the health system, have cast doubt on plans to remove almost all restrictions in just over a week’s time.
After the latest figures were published, deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn posted a thread on social media in which he said that all of the Covid-19 indicators are pointing towards a deteriorating disease trajectory nationally.
“Unfortunately, we have seen increases across key indicators of Covid-19 right across the country and the growth rate of the epidemic has accelerated in recent days,” he said on Twitter.
“All indicators of Covid-19 are pointing towards a deteriorating disease trajectory nationally. We are seeing an increase in incidence in all age groups, including older age groups. The national incidence is now 415/100,000.
“As a result, we are seeing an impact on our hospital system with an average of 50 people being admitted to hospital per day (up from 35 per day at the end of September) and 5 admissions to intensive care per day.
“It’s important that anyone who is fully vaccinated is reassured that vaccines give very good protection from Covid-19.
“However, when incidence of disease is high, we will see breakthrough infections in vaccinated people – most people’s experience of infection will be mild, but some will end up in hospital and intensive care. We want to avoid that.”
Senior officials and political aides had been briefed on Wednesday by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) that the path of infection had taken an unexpected negative turn and all key indicators of the disease were now performing badly.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said a decision would be made next week on whether the further easing of restrictions will proceed.
Speaking in the Dáil on Thursday, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said that if everyone was fully vaccinated there would be “no question” about easing restrictions.
Mr Varadkar said no decisions had been made on the planned easing of restrictions on October 22nd, but that the Cabinet would probably decide on Monday or Tuesday, by which time more data will be available.
“Israel, which saw a return of Delta, got its numbers down and under control again through an extensive booster programme,” said Mr Varadkar.
“The case for something like that is stronger than ever.”
The Tánaiste said the booster programme is progressing, with the administration of a third vaccine shot having begun with those over-65s in residential care settings, those over 80 in the community and those with underlying conditions.
Mr Varadkar said Government was waiting on advice from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee regarding a wider booster programme.
He told Fine Gael TD Kieran O’Donnell, who raised the issue, that in relation to those who are not yet vaccinated, “vaccines are still available and vaccine centres are still open”.
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He said: “It is a personal choice, but the truth is that if everyone in Ireland was fully vaccinated, we would probably have approximately 25 people in ICU and 200 in hospital overall today, and there would be no question about easing restrictions on 22 October. It is a personal choice, but it has an impact on other people.”
Regarding Ireland’s Covid-19 situation, Prof Philip Nolan of Nphet on Thursday said “fundamentally we’re on a knife edge”, as he called on people who had not yet received a vaccination to do so.
Making a decision not to be vaccinated was not just a personal choice, he said of well-known people who had declined to be vaccinated. There was an obligation, he said, especially if they had a “followership”.
The virus was spreading “subtly and slowly” through the vaccinated population, Prof Nolan warned.
“Leaving your home with symptoms has to become socially unacceptable like drink driving,” he said, advising those who have any symptoms to not mix with others.
Prof Nolan said that Nphet would have to wait for a few more days to gather more data to make an opinion about the easing of restrictions on October 22nd.
The current situation was one of the scenarios that had been modelled, he said, “we had hoped it wouldn’t happen”.
There was a concern that the positive cases being identified now could transfer into hospitalisations in the next week, he said.
Prof Nolan’s appeal on vaccinations echoed that of chief operations officer of the Health Service Executive (HSE) Anne O’Connor, who earlier repeated an appeal for unvaccinated people to get the jab.
Ms O’Connor told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland that the majority of patients admitted to hospital with Covid and into ICU were not vaccinated and 10 per cent of the unvaccinated adult population was responsible for 50 per cent of admissions.
Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris suggested an extension of the digital Covid certificate beyond October 22nd as a possible way of society fully reopening in a safe way.
Mr Harris said under the current proposals, the use of digital certificates was no longer required after the ending of restrictions on venues, such as night clubs, from the end of next week.
Speaking on Thursday Mr Harris suggested that a continuing requirement to show the digital certificate might be a way of allowing reopening in a safe way.
“We are not in this binary position of do we open or not to open. We have learned a lot about the virus and learned a lot about how to keep us safe. We have a huge amount of our people vaccinated,” he said.
“We should be asking more nuanced questions of each other. How can you open and keep it safely open?”
Mr Harris also urged people who have not availed of vaccination to “go out and protect yourself and protect your community” by getting the vaccine.
On the Government’s thinking on reopening, he said: “We will make the right decision. To make the right decision we will look at the data that comes in over the next few days.”
The Taoiseach said the Government will make an assessment next week on whether or not the next phase of reopening will go ahead. Mr Martin said he has had discussions with the leadership of the health services and with public health experts and will listen to their advice in the coming days.
However, he emphasised that the vaccination programme in Ireland has been a huge success with 90 per cent of those over 12 now fully vaccinated.
He urged the 370,000 adults who have not been vaccinated, or have received only one jab, to become fully vaccinated.
“Covid has the capacity to have many twists and many turns. It has turned in recent days (with rising case numbers),” he said.
Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe earlier told Newstalk’s Pat Kenny show that it was “a little less likely” that there would be a widespread return to the workplace on October 22nd.
Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said it was possible that some of the existing restrictions would not be lifted on the expected date, but that any decision would be on the basis of advice from public health experts and the available data.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald called on the Government to do everything they could to provide clarity to sectors expected to reopen on October 22nd.
“All of us need to use our cop on”, she told RTÉ radio’s News at One.
The experts had consistently said that there was a need for caution and not for panic, she said and any decision on the easing of restrictions on October 22nd had to be mindful of public health advice.
At the core of the problem was public health provision and the real dilemma, she said, was that the Government would not resource the health service.
In the North, meanwhile, a further six people with Covid-19 have died, the Northern Ireland Department of Health reported on Thursday.
A total of 1,304 new positive cases were identified and 345 people are receiving treatment for Covid-19 in the North’s hospitals, with 38 in intensive care.