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Concern over workplace outbreaks and student clusters: 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: Sasko Lazarov/RollingNews.ie

PUBLIC HEALTH OFFICIALS confirmed a further 821 cases of Covid-19 and no deaths in Ireland as Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn led this evening’s press briefing of the National Public Health Emergency Team addressing the Covid-19 crisis.

This evening’s figures mean that there have now been a total of 210,402 cases of Covid-19 in Ireland, along with 3,948 deaths.

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

No deaths today – but the figure is expected to rise

When asked about the fact that there were no Covid-19 deaths recorded today, Dr Ronan Glynn said that the General Register Office being closed at weekends is “most likely” a factor in that dramatic drop – but that “unfortunately” he expects that figure to “be back up again tomorrow”.

Dr Glynn said he wasn’t expecting to see zero Covid-related deaths today himself.

Vaccine centres

From today, over 85s are to start receiving the Covid-19 mRNA vaccines – which health experts were positive about at this evening’s briefing.

Earlier today, the 37 vaccination centres that are being used in the rollout were revealed – with many in GAA clubs, hotels and stadiums across the country.

Dr Lorraine Doherty, National Clinical Director Health Protection HSE said that a “very detailed communication campaign” on how the 37 vaccination centres across the country will work will be launched in the coming weeks. 

Dr Doherty said that people will be able to register through their GP or with their PPSN. 

Clusters in workplaces and third-level institutions

There were three new clusters in meat processing and food production centres in the past week, and there are 29 “open clusters” in those settings at the moment.  The biggest cluster in one of these settings had 125 Covid-19 cases.

There are currently 181 open outbreaks across all workplace settings.

Dr Glynn said: “People are adhering to the guidelines and protocols in front of house, but when they go on their break, when they go to the canteen they relax, and unfortunately that’s when the disease is getting transmitted.” 

Dr Doherty said that there are also concerns about the rise of infections in the third level institutions – there are ongoing outbreaks in Galway and Limerick.

“In Galway, so far we have 135 cases linked to students. We have 35 suspect cases awaiting results, and a further 30, who are presenting today for testing who are symptomatic. We have 15 clusters associated with these cases, in some cases the clusters have two cases, in some cases they have 40.”

“And similarly in Limerick, we have 120 positive students.”

No St Patrick’s Day meet-ups – focus is on opening schools

Dr Glynn said that it wouldn’t be possible for people to gather for St Patrick’s Day.

“No, unfortunately at this point, I don’t see a scenario where anything other than the cautious phased reopening of schools will be possible in March. We’ve got to get that right, we’ve got to get our health service back up and running.”

Glynn said it was too early to say whether people could go to Mass on Easter Sunday.

Less people are worried, and that’s a good thing

Dr Ronan Glynn said that it wasn’t surprising that people are feeling more bored and frustrated now than ever – but also said that it’s “welcome” that people are less worried at the moment.

“There’s nothing to do, it’s no surprise that people are bored.

“Yet, levels of worry have decreased, I think that’s to be welcomed. We don’t want people to be unduly worried, we want people to take positive action to take care of themselves and their families.”

He said families and communities would need time to recover from the past two months, as well as the past year: “It is really difficult, but there are brighter days ahead.”

A final thought

In response to questions about lifting restrictions around St Patrick’s Day or Easter, Prof Philip Nolan said that there’s “a defined window there” that needs to be used carefully. 

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“We’re at a level of disease here that similar to what we saw at the end of October. It took us a further five weeks of very strict measures to get case numbers down to about 250 per day – and we know that wasn’t enough.

Rather than what restrictions might be imposed at that time, we need to think, as a society, what are we going to do then [in March and April]?
Are we going to be really cautious about the next steps, or are we going to squander 12 weeks of extraordinary collective effort to go from 6,500 to 200 cases?

“It’s taken such effort to get to here, it’s gonna take more effort to get there, that I’d be very cautious personally about doing anything that would put that progress at any kind of risk.

Glynn said later on: “I don’t see a scenario where we’re not asking people to wear face masks, to keep physical distance, to avoid crowds, to avoid poorly ventilated spaces over the next six months.”

With reporting from Stephen McDermott.

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