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Nolan warns of 'delicate point' in lockdown restrictions as 344 Covid patients in hospital

Public health officials last night confirmed 592 new cases of Covid-19 and 10 deaths amid concerns around increased mobility.

Image: RollingNews.ie

Updated Mar 12th 2021, 11:40 AM

PROFESSOR PHILIP NOLAN has said Ireland is in a “very precarious position” and has urged the public to continue adhering to restrictions as the vaccine rollout continues. 

Public health officials last night confirmed 592 new cases of Covid-19 and 10 deaths amid concerns around increased mobility. 

As of 8pm last night, there were 341 people hospitalised with Covid-19; this afternoon there were 344. There have been 16 new confirmed cases and 38 people discharged from hospitals in the past 24 hours.

There are 87 people are currently in ICU as of 11am today, with one admission in the past 24 hours. 

Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Nolan said that the country is at “a delicate point” as sectors of society begin to reopen. 

“We’ve made this extraordinary progress, but we need to focus on the fact that the prevalence of the disease and the impact of the disease remains very high,” said Nolan. 

“We’re making progress but we’re in a very precarious position. We’re also at this delicate point where we’re beginning to attempt to reopen our priorities…non-urgent healthcare and schooling.

“This is not the time…to relax in any way around the public health measures.

This is the time to only leave your home if it’s for essential activities. This is not the time to have mixing between households. It’s not the time to be going back to the workplace if it’s not essential that you do so.

Nolan said that is was “a matter of weeks” that the public need to continue strict adherence to restrictions due to the ramping up of the vaccination programme. 

He said there were “two sources of hope” – the vaccine rollout and the country’s ability to suppress the virus. 

“So we need to stick with this,” said Nolan. “This virus will exploit any chance we give it.”

His comments were made following the European Medicine Agency’s (EMA) approval of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine yesterday. 

Hailed as a ‘game-changer’ Ireland is set to receive an initial 600,000 doses but this could be hampered by supply issues in April and May. 

Leitrim has seen the largest drop in confirmed Covid-19 cases in the country, down 82%.

Research by the Central Statistics Office shows the county recorded the largest drop of any county between 26 February and 5 March this year. The week ending 5 March marked the eighth week in a row that Leitrim recorded fewer than 50 cases.

The number of new cases has fallen nationally by 31%, although this varies across counties from an 82% decrease in Leitrim to a 7% increase in Wicklow, the only county to record an increase.

Vaccines

HSE CEO Paul Reid told a media briefing yesterday that his confidence in pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca has been “rocked” by supply issues, with delivery volumes changed several times at the last minute. 

Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne, Reid was asked about a claim that they had been expecting 26,000 and when it arrived it was 10,000. 

About 370,000 doses are expected from AstraZeneca by the end of March, he said, and there have been issues in the last 3-4 weeks with supply.

The problem for ourselves in the HSE we are operating at a very high efficiency level. So if we get a short or late notice of distribution to us. Last Friday fortnight we got a late notice that the delivery of about 64,000 wouldn’t be arriving to the level that we expected. That impacted us on that weekend, on the Saturday and Sunday.

“It’s not just Ireland, it’s at a European level,” he said. He said that apart from one “blip” from Pfizer, the supply levels from that company have been good. 

“We need to get a stronger level of predictability, particularly in the next few weeks til the end of March,” Reid said.

Reid said that the benefits of the vaccine that has been administered has been “phenomenal”, that 43% of Covid mortality rates were among the 85s and over, and that that group has been “practically completed”. 16% of all Covid cases were among healthcare workers, which has fallen to 4% since they were vaccinated, he said.

In response to distribution issues, Reid said that call centres, direct contacts, and GP practices that weren’t in a position to ‘buddy up’ with bigger practices have all been resolved.

He said that it was likely that the J&J vaccine, approved by the EMA yesterday, would be delivering 600,000 doses to Ireland in April, May and June.

On the AstraZeneca supplies unused in the US, Reid said that “there’s very significant engagement and pressure, [the government] intervened at various stages – sometimes with Pfizer, sometimes with Moderna”.

The Taoiseach has sought a meeting with the CEO of AstraZeneca for next week to discuss production and supply. 

Also speaking to Morning Ireland, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said the unreliability of the supply of AstraZeneca’s vaccine is “causing anxiety on the ground which is just not fair”. 

He said he had a meeting with the pharmaceutical company last night, and was told they had “unanticipated problems” with their global supply chains which was affecting supply. 

“They’ve admitted they have had problems,” Donnelly said. “We are very, very frustrated with this.”

He added that the need for vaccines is urgent, given that data from cohorts already vaccinated showed large reductions in the number of cases in these groups. 

Yesterday, the HSE’s Reid said he welcomed the Taoiseach’s intervention stating that he had been keeping Micheál Martin and the the rest of the government informed of the “unpredictability of supply”. 

Reid said discussions with the firm on supply levels are ongoing but he does not anticipate it will meet the full commitment of 377,000 doses for this quarter. He said he does not even have clarity yet on the volume of deliveries for next week. 

“Our confidence levels have been fairly rocked with them in terms of deliveries and supplies so that’s an ongoing dialogue with them right now,” he said.

The health service had been aiming to grow the number of weekly doses administered as the roll-out advanced and weekly targets should be above 100,000 doses now, but next week the target is between 75,000 and 85,000 doses. 

A total of 536,617 doses have been administered in Ireland. Of these, 382,528 were first doses with 154,089 people in Ireland now fully vaccinated. 

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Nursing Homes

Meanwhile, nursing homes will be permitted two visits per week from 22 March if approximately 80% of residents and staff have been vaccinated against Covid-19. 

The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) has approved the new visiting guidance today for visits to long-term residential care facilities. 

In a statement, the Department of Health said the “advanced stage of the vaccination rollout in nursing homes” has allowed for “cautious” changes around visitations.

Until now, residents were allowed one visit every two weeks. 

The guidance already in place allowed for visiting on critical and compassionate grounds at the moment. The new guidance will expand the scope of visiting on general compassionate grounds. 

The guidance says the visits are possible two weeks after full vaccination of around 80% of residents and healthcare workers in the nursing home.

The department said there is no requirement to limit these visits to under an hour. 

With reporting from Sean Murray

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