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'We can't afford to deteriorate': 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.

Dr Ronan Glynn at the Department of Health this evening.
Dr Ronan Glynn at the Department of Health this evening.
Image: Rollingnews.ie

PUBLIC HEALTH OFFICIALS this evening confirmed a further 592 cases of Covid-19 and 10 additional deaths in Ireland.

This evening’s figures mean that there has now been a total of 225,179 cases of Covid-19 in Ireland, along with 4,509 deaths.

The deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn led tonight’s NPHET briefing, alongside the chair of the NPHET Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group Professor Philip Nolan, HSE Clinical Lead for Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Control Professor Martin Cormican and Chair of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) Professor Karina Butler. 

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

Warning bells

  • NPHET warned that “now is not the moment to take the foot off the brake” with continuing the suppression of Covid-19. This comes as data shows an increase in mobility among the population. 

There was a significant tone of warning at this evening’s briefing, with health officials saying they are concerned by the data around mobility among the population at the moment. 

Professor Philip Nolan said: “If there has been any slippage in terms of adherence to public health advice, collectively, we need to pull back from that brink.”

“We are sailing very close to the wind here. We have been just below, in real terms, a reproduction number of one for some weeks now.

“And the last couple of days just emphasise to me [that] a gust of wind in the wrong direction, and we’re in real trouble.”

He said the daily case numbers are “not where we want them to be” this week. 

“That’s happened before, and we may be coming back next week and saying it’s not an issue.

“But right now I’m concerned when you see that, along with an increase in mobility and an increase in appearance in levels of attendance at workplaces that we have to say any deviation right now from stay at home, work from home and be very careful when you have to leave the home, puts the achievements of the last six or eight weeks at risk.”

He said the country is maintaining suppression of the disease, but it’s “very precarious”.

He said it’s difficult to estimate the R-number, so the “epidemic could be stable or declining, we’re really not quite sure”. 

The R-number estimate given tonight was 0.6 to 1.0. 

The deputy CMO Dr Glynn said: “People will get vaccinated over the next two months and will be protected from this disease, and will not die as a result of getting that protection.

“It would be a real shame over the coming weeks and months if we let this disease get out of control, and people who would otherwise get that protection, and go on to live healthy, happy, long lives might otherwise not get to do that because this disease gets out of control once more. We simply can’t let that happen when we’re so close to protecting the majority of the population through vaccination.” 

Dr Glynn added that the country “simply can’t afford to deteriorate at the moment”.

“We’re looking at two to three months where we’ve got to stick with this, barring unforeseen events, and there could be unforeseen events and there is uncertainty.

“But there’s a very reasonable expectation that we will have a good summer and that there’s much brighter days ahead. But now is not the moment to take the foot off the brake.”

AstraZeneca vaccine 

  • There will be an updated recommendation around the use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine “in the next couple of days”, Dr Ronan Glynn said. Ireland currently only administers this vaccine to people aged under 70 where possible. 

Professor Karina Butler said NIAC has been looking at changing the recommendation around the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine.  

“In light of the data that’s come out from the UK particularly showing the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and how it has had impact there as well,” she said. 

Dr Glynn added: “Professor Butler has provided advice to myself but I just need to look at that advice and discuss it with the minister, so there will be updated recommendations around the use AstraZeneca coming hopefully in the next couple of days but we’re not at liberty to say more than that this evening until I’ve had a chance to discuss it with the minister [Stephen Donnelly].” 

The EMA announced earlier this week it was “reviewing thromboembolic events reported in temporal association with” the AstraZeneca vaccine after reports of cases in Austria.

It said a preliminary probe showed that a batch of AstraZeneca vaccines used in Austria was likely not to blame for the death of a nurse who received a jab.

The EMA said earlier today that there appeared to be no higher risk of blood clots in those vaccinated against Covid-19, after Denmark, Norway and Iceland suspended use of this vaccine. 

Professor Butler said this news was concerning, but it was “very reassuring” to hear the EMA review today. 

She said the EMA has “taken this very seriously in terms of making sure that they give it their full assessment and review will be ongoing this week”  

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She added that Ireland’s Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) is aligned with the EMA in continuing to use the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Schools

  • As schools reopen, Professor Nolan said school outbreaks continue to be “relatively rare”. Dr Glynn said there have been no “significant issues” in schools over the past 10 days. 

As of this week, there are six outbreaks in schools in total with fewer than ten cases linked to these, Professor Nolan said. 

He added: “A minority in cases in children of school-going age occur in school outbreaks. The vast majority of cases in those aged five to 18 occur in the community, or in private house, extended family or community outbreaks.

“If you’re seeing 100 cases a day in people aged between 14 and 18, as they return to in-person, education, you will see more and more of those cases being picked up in schools, and you will see small outbreaks occurring in schools. So we expect that, but I think it’s important before we begin to see them, to put those outbreaks in context of how they’ve occurred in earlier parts of the pandemic,” Nolan said. 

He said school outbreaks are “relatively rare”, as they have been throughout the pandemic.  

Dr Glynn added that there have been no “significant issues” in schools over the past 10 days, saying this will continue to be monitored.  

Nursing home visits 

  • It was announced today that nursing home residents will be permitted two visits per week from 22 March. Professor Martin Cormican said there will hopefully be further progress in this area in the next month. 

People in homes will be permitted these visits from later this month providing approximately 80% of residents and staff in the nursing home have been vaccinated against Covid-19. 

Professor Cormican said the onus is “very much on” nursing homes to allow these compassionate visits to take place.

He said the term compassionate grounds is very broad, and can encompass those who simply want to see a person they may not have seen for a long time. 

He said window visits can still take place in addition to the two visits outlined in the new guidance set to take effect from 22 March. 

He also said there is no limit where practicable for people approaching the end of their life, subject to what can be handled from an infection control perspective. 

“I would say this is a step towards giving residents and families an opportunity to restore those meaningful contacts that are so important for them. We are hopeful that we will be able to see further progress on this in the next month,” he said. 

You can sign up to TheJournal.ie’s coronavirus newsletter below. Tomorrow’s edition will include further details from the briefing.

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