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Case numbers between 400 and 500 at the start of March: The key points you need to know from tonight's NPHET briefing

A round-up of NPHET’s press briefing at the Department of Health this evening.

Image: Leah Farrell

PUBLIC HEALTH OFFICIALS confirmed a further 901 cases of Covid-19 and 47 deaths in Ireland, as Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn led this evenings press briefing of the National Public Health Emergency Team addressing the Covid-19 crisis.

This evenings figures now mean there have been a total of 212,647 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Ireland, and a death toll of 4,082. 

Here’s what was discussed at this evening’s briefing:

March case numbers

The rate at which cases are decreasing is slowing down, according to Professor Philip Nolan, chair of the Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group.

Professor Nolan says that this is likely due to the increased prevalence of the UK B117 variant, which he said is now 90% of all Covid-19 cases in Ireland.

“People are trying as hard as they have been over the last six weeks to suppress the disease, they’re succeeding. We’re just collectively finding it somewhat more difficult in the last few weeks compared with the preceding weeks,” said Nolan.

According to Nolan, modelling now shows that case numbers are expected to fall between 400 and 500 cases per day at the beginning of March, then falling to between 200 and 350 in the middle of March, if the reproduction number can be kept between 0.7 and 0.9.

“We are maintaining suppression, but it’s precarious,” said Nolan, who estimated the reproduction number to be between 0.65 and 0.85.

If we can keep this up, we will continue to see improvements in the level of disease, and those improvements in the level of disease will protect the vulnerable, protect our health service, and give us options into the future.

Previously in a letter to government last Thursday, Dr Glynn had expected case numbers to be between 300 and 100 a day in mid-March.

According to Nolan, there has also been a slight increase in close contacts, with the average number of contacts moving from 2.1 to 2.4.

UK Variant

Alongside the new projections for daily March case numbers, the B117 variant is now responsible for 90% of all Covid-19 cases in Ireland.

“For the last two weeks it’s been essentially 90% or nine out of 10 cases are this new variant,” said Nolan.

According to Nolan, this is leading to increased transmissibility of the virus by between 30 and 60%.  

Nolan also mentioned that due to the high case numbers, it is harder for public health teams to be able to track down cases and determine where transmission is occurring.

Vaccines and suspected side-effects

According to Dr Lorraine Nolan, Chief Executive of the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA), there have been 2,103 reports of suspected side-effects from Covid-19 vaccines, up to 11 February

These reports are in the context of over 260,000 vaccine doses which had been delivered up to that point, and over 95% are related to messenger RNA vaccines like Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

According to Nolan, all suspected side-effects reported are consistent with the safety profile that was established during clinical trials.

The most common suspected side-effects reported were dizziness, headache, tiredness, and itching or rash at the injection site, and were mild or moderate and had either resolved or were resolving when they were reported.

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Nolan said that the benefits of vaccination against Covid-19 far outweigh the risks of potential side effects, which are mild and short term in the majority of cases. 

PIMS

Paediatric multi-system inflammatory syndrome temporally associated with COVID-19 (PIMS-TS) is a hyper-inflammatory syndrome that has been described in children occurring in the aftermath of either exposure to/infection with Covid-19.

The Children’s Health Ireland (CHI) group of hospitals, which includes Crumlin, Temple Street and Tallaght hospitals, told TheJournal.ie there has been an increase in the number of cases in 2021.

Last year there were 18 children across these three hospitals who were diagnosed with this syndrome. So far this year there have already been 14.

HSE Chief Clinical Officer Dr Colm Henry said that whether the cases of PIMS are linked to Covid-19 is “uncertain”.

“Certainly internationally there have been rare reports of a PIMS like condition following COVID infection in children, but to reassure people children seemed either to be not affected, don’t become ill or are asymptomatic if they do contract the virus. Serious illness among children from Covid is very rare,” said Henry.

With reporting by Michelle Hennessy

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