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Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan. Sam Boal/
Reasons to be cheerful

'Reasons for optimism' from NPHET as Holohan raises prospect of lifting remaining restrictions

Holohan said that Ireland’s uptake of Covid-19 vaccines was “among the best in the world”.

CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER Dr. Tony Holohan has there are “reasons for optimism” and that the continued vaccination programme may allow the country to remove the Covid-19 restrictions that are still in place. 

Holohan said that Ireland’s uptake of Covid-19 vaccines was “among the best in the world” and expressed optimism that this would continue as more age groups are free to register for the vaccine. 

As of yesterday, 70.73% of Ireland’s adult population is now fully vaccinated, with a further 9.68% partially vaccinated.

“We have reasons for optimism, obviously we continue to see very high levels of vaccination in all the age cohorts that have come forward for vaccination,” Holohan said. 

We’re now making the vaccine available by way of registration for 16 to 18 year olds, and will hopefully in the next number of weeks be in a position to, as the government decided yesterday, offer registration to children between the ages of 12 and 15.

“If we keep pushing on with the kinds of uptake rates we’ve seen in some of the older age groups, which by international standards is among the best in the world, that gives us a lot of reasons for optimism that the conditions we think need to be satisfied to allow us to move away from some of the restrictions that still remain in place could be met.” 

Asked what restrictions he was referring to, Holohan said many have been lifted since the end of April but that some restrictions remain in place including the need for Covid Certs to enter hospitality and restrictions on the number of gatherings both indoors and outdoors. 

The CMO said all this “will depend” on observations over the coming weeks but that vaccinations are currently preventing “significant numbers of cases and importantly hospitalisations”. 

He added: 

We really have to continue to work hard as a country to drive up the vaccination rates as high as possible. The higher we go, the better the protection we have and the sooner, frankly, we’ll be out of all of this in terms of the economic and social restrictions that are still in place. 

Holohan said that NPHET does not have a target of herd immunity within the population but that it will advise government “in the coming days” about “achievable targets” for vaccination rates. 

“We’re optimistic in this country and we as public health officials are optimistic about how high that target can be because we think we can get to a higher target than many other countries,” he said.

‘Peaks and troughs’ 

Speaking about the trajectory of the virus, NPHET’s head of modelling Professor Philip Nolan said that it is likely there will be “peaks and troughs” of Covid-19 cases over the next few months.

Nolan described the recent trend in cases numbers as “somewhat unusual” after increasing sharply in the middle of July before remaining more steady in the past couple of weeks. 

He added that a “pent-up” need to socialise and travel earlier this month may have caused cases to soar but that numbers appear to be settling.

It’s very hard to explain why that is but clearly what’s happened here is that there was a set of things that people were looking forward to doing at the beginning of July, they did some of those things and we had a very significant number of cases in or around 15 July. 

Nolan added that it will be some time before health experts can determine the underlying pattern of growth in cases.

Dept of Health briefing 012 Professor Philip Nolan, Chair of the NPHET's modelling group. Sam Boal Sam Boal

“I do think there’s grounds for optimism because it seems to me, quite clearly, that after 18 months or so people are very clearly reading the risk,” he added.

“If our collective behaviour starts to push case numbers up, people collectively become more cautious and that’s why I don’t expect to track any of these huge waves.

“As soon as those waves start, people become more cautious. It’s much more likely that we’ll see increases and decreases in incidence over the coming weeks.

I remain optimistic that collectively we will do our best to keep this under control by adherence to the simple measures. We don’t think we’re going to see a single peak. We think we’re going to see peaks and troughs out into the September and October period, really depending upon how careful we are going about our daily business.

Data produced by NPHET shows the 14-day incidence rate is particularly high in Donegal and Louth.

Deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said there are five counties that are reporting more than 400 cases over the past seven days, including Dublin, Donegal, Cork, Galway and Louth.

He said that most countries across the EU as well as the UK have seen a stabilisation or improvement in the last week, except Ireland and France. Glynn said the outlook for Ireland looks uncertain for the next few weeks.

Nolan also said there has been an increase in the number of people admitted to hospital.

On average, 26 people are being admitted to hospital per day, which is double what it was two weeks ago.

He added that the number of admissions were fewer than they would expect, given the number of cases in recent weeks. There are fewer than 20 admissions per 1,000 cases.

Nolan also said the length of stay in hospital is shortening which suggests vaccine protection.

“This is at the moment very much disease of younger people, the incidence is dominated by those aged 19 to 24, followed by those aged 13 to 18, but in that age group it’s mostly 16 and 17 year olds, followed by those aged 25 to 34,” he added.

“Most of the cases that we’re seeing are in younger unvaccinated people.

“Even though numbers in hospital and ICU are increasing, they’re increasing far less than they would do if we didn’t have so much of the population protected through vaccination.”

- With reporting by Press Association 

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