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Taoiseach says situation is 'fragile', but progress being achieved with falling hospital and ICU numbers

The number of people with Covid-19 in intensive care units currently stands at 76.

Image: Niall Carson via PA Images

Updated Mar 24th 2021, 2:00 PM

THE TAOISEACH HAS told the Dáil today that “the situation in relation to the virus is very fragile”, but highlighted that progress has been achieved in reducing case numbers and hospitalisations since January. 

The number of people in hospital with Covid-19 currently stands at 357, as of 8am this morning. 

25 new Covid-19 patients were admitted to hospital in the past 24 hours and 24 have been discharged. 

The number of people with Covid-19 in intensive care units this morning currently stands at 76. Two people were admitted to ICU in the past 24 hours and two have been discharged. 

Speaking during Leaders’ Questions today, Micheál Martin said the Level 5 have worked to date and that “needs to be acknowledged”.

He acknowledged that the restrictions were having a serious impact on peoples’ civil liberties and that it was very difficult not meeting with friends.

No decisions have been made yet on what the situation will be after 5 April, he said, refusing to speculate if beer gardens will be back open this summer.

The Taoiseach has flagged that the government will assess if the 5km limit can be eased, if construction can resume, and if some outdoor activities will be allowed. 

He did tell the Dáil today that the numbers that can attend funerals is something the government will look at, following requests from church leaders. However, the Taoiseach said he could give no guarantees that the numbers would be increased.

He said the sacrifices made by the Irish people has made a difference, but he urged caution.

While there has been a reduction in the figures, the case numbers are still relatively high due to the B117 variant which is more transmissible, he said.

Citing countries like France, Germany and Slovakia, the Taoiseach said the case trajectory in those countries was rising, while ours is “flattening” but has plateaued.

The Taoiseach said the government needs to be careful in how it deals with and controls the variant. He said the government will spend a lot of time over the next few days assessing the latest epidemiology data, but he said the case numbers remaining high is “serious”.

Health officials last night confirmed a further 371 new cases of Covid-19 in Ireland. The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) also reported 24 further deaths. 

The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) will not meet on Thursday this week, instead meeting on Monday ahead of the Sub Cabinet Committee on Monday evening. 

Cabinet will sign off on the post 5 April restrictions on Tuesday. The Taoiseach is expected to make a public address that evening.

Slight easing in April

Higher Education Minister Simon Harris said today that it is important to highlight the positive and put context on the current situation, stating that Ireland is still one of the best performing countries in Europe as a result of people’s efforts.

He said the hospital and ICU numbers are “going in the right direction”, with nursing home visits resuming and the number of healthcare workers infected with the virus also significantly down.

While he said the government will be cautious, he added:

“I think we will be able to see some slight easing in April.”

“I genuinely believe as we enter the months of May and June we are going to be living in a very different country,” said Harris.

Today HSE CEO Paul Reid said the latest round of serial testing in nursing homes is at 0.18% positivity, the second lowest rate since the serial testing programme started. 

The lowest rate was 0.13% last July, when there were just 10 positive cases per day in the country. He said this shows that vaccines are protecting the most vulnerable in our communities.

Speaking at a briefing this morning, Liz Canavan, Assistant Secretary General at the Department of the Taoiseach , said the predominant B117 variant is much harder to control and this is why there has been a levelling off of case numbers. 

“What is concerning is that there has been a 9% increase week-on -week in case numbers- t he first increase since the peak of wave 3,” she said. “Thirteen counties have a community positivity rate of more than 10%, rates are higher now on a number of measures compared to where we were at other key points, including just before Christmas.”

Canavan said new ESRI research confirms “we’re all fed up” but most people are complying with the restrictions and public health guidance despite that.

However she said the study also indicates an increase in people making social visits to each other’s homes.

“We’re not necessarily talking about house parties, but we are talking about some home visits that are lasting an hour or more where masks are not being worn,” she said.

“It may be just a cup of coffee with extended family or a lunch. With the new variants, this is just a lot riskier than people may think.

“We’re well used to hearing now that all social contact is risky, but this is especially the case if the contact is indoors, if rooms are not well ventilated, if you’re not wearing a mask, and the visit goes on too long. So where you have choices about non essential visits, think again. And don’t give Covid the opportunity, it will surely take.”

Mandatory quarantine

The booking portal for mandatory hotel quarantine in Ireland went live yesterday morning. The portal is available to access here. More information about mandatory quarantine can be found here

All passengers arriving into Ireland from designated States after 4am this Friday, 26 March are now required to pre-book accommodation in a designated quarantine facility, and to pre-pay for their stay.

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There are currently 33 countries on the government’s list of ‘high-risk’ countries.

On 26 February, Minister Donnelly designated an additional 13 countries and territories as “Category 2 Countries and Territories”. These countries/territories are: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Paraguay, Panama, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela.

The 20 other currently on the list are: Angola, Austria, Botswana, Brazil, Burundi, Cape Verde, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Republic of South Africa, Rwanda, Seychelles, Tanzania, United Arab Emirates, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Latest figures show that between Monday, 15 March and Sunday, 21 March a total of 10,613 passengers arrived into Dublin Airport. 

Of the 10,613 passengers, 5,919 were Irish residents and 4,694 were non-residents. 

This marks an 88% decrease on passenger arrivals into Dublin Airport on the same period last year and a 96.4% decrease on 2019. 

The latest figures available to the Department of Health as of 7 March is that 4,172 people have flown in from Category 2 high risk countries.

The Department of Justice said yesterday that around 1,000 home checks had been made on passengers arriving from these countries, meaning around one in four passengers are being followed up on by spot checks.

- With reporting by Michelle Hennessy and Christina Finn

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