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Little hope of lifting lockdown as UK variant is dominating


Dr Tony Holohan, during a press briefing at the Department of Health. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Dr Tony Holohan, during a press briefing at the Department of Health. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Dr Tony Holohan, during a press briefing at the Department of Health. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

The more infectious UK variant of Covid-19 now accounts for two-thirds of cases, amid little hope of any significant easing of restrictions early next month.

Professor Philip Nolan of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) indicated this lockdown needs to drive down cases to very low levels.

Progress from here is going to “feel slow”.

If daily cases were down to 200 to 400 this month, it would be an “extraordinary performance” – but still not enough.

Asked what might happen on March 5, Prof Nolan said there would still be a very high level of disease and it will be necessary to ensure cases continue to fall.

He was speaking as another 75 Covid-19 related deaths were reported yesterday, with the youngest victim aged 34 and the oldest 100.

Another 1,318 new cases of the virus were diagnosed, breaching the 200,000 level to hit 200,744 so far.

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Prof Nolan said the next few weeks will be difficult, “and as we bring the daily case levels below 1,000 a day, our progress will seem to slow down”.

“It is now more important than ever that we continue our efforts to bring case numbers down towards the very low levels we achieved in June and July,” he said.

“It is very good news that our estimates of the R number are well below one – in the region of 0.5 to 0.8.

“I noted last week that the testing of close contacts will impact on case numbers in the coming days.

“We shouldn’t be disappointed by this, it shows that we have moved from the mitigation phase of the last few weeks, back to the containment phase where we are tracking down every possible chain of transmission.”

Overall, steady progress is being made, people are continuing to keep their contacts low and people are heeding the message to stay at home.

After concerns were ex- pressed earlier this week that the cases were stabilising and the rate of progress was slowing, it now appears the spread is being driven down.

Prof Nolan said unusually low cases were being reported on Monday and Tuesday each week.

This was linked to few tests being done at the weekend, which led to an inflation of numbers later in the week.

Referring to levels of infection among people aged 85 and over, he said the incidence is still very high and is falling slowly with significant deaths.

Yesterday’s Department of Health briefing was told there is a continuing high level of outbreaks in workplaces and some of it around staff not taking precautions when they are on breaks.

Commenting on the decision not to give the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine to the over-70s due to lack of evidence on how effective it is in older age groups, Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said he did not believe there would be a delay in vaccinating this group.

“We know that the over-70s have suffered the greatest burden of mortality and serious illness from Covid-19,” he said.

“Ireland is now in a good position; we can now offer highly effective and safe vaccines to this cohort.

“The superior efficacy demonstrated by the mRNA vaccines authorised for use in Ireland, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, mean that the mRNA vaccines are the right vaccine to provide the highest level of protection available to those over 70.

“Over the coming weeks, we will see many more of our vulnerable loved ones receive their Covid-19 vaccinations.

“This is good news and gives all of us great hope.

“However, even if you have received your Covid-19 vaccine, you must continue to wash your hands, wear a face covering, maintain a social distance and keep your close contacts to a minimum.

“Until we have all been vaccinated, we must act as though none of us have been vaccinated.”

The number of Covid-19 patients in hospital across the country fell to 1,284 yesterday, of which 188 were in intensive care.

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