‘There are brighter days coming’: The key points you need to know from tonight’s NPHET briefing

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

PUBLIC HEALTH OFFICIALS this evening have confirmed an additional 606 cases of Covid-19 and three deaths in Ireland this evening.

Tonight’s figures bring the total number of cases of Covid-19 in Ireland to 232,758, with a death toll of 4,631.

Tonight’s briefing was lead by Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn, alongside Professor Philip Nolan, the chair of the Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, Dr Miriam Owens, Director of Public Health at the HSE and Dr Lorraine Nolan of the Health Products Regulatory Authority.

Here’s what was discussed:

Case numbers

  • Professor Philp Nolan said that case numbers have plateaued or are rising slowly, at between 550 and 600 cases each day.

Daily case numbers have either become static or have begun to increase slightly said Professor Nolan, with 606 cases being reported today.

According to Nolan, the current decline rates are between 0% and 2% per day, which would lead to doubling in around 35 days or longer.

The reproduction number is also uncertain, but it is estimated to be between 1 and 1.3.

Nolan highlighted some reasons which are potentially behind the stasis in case numbers, including an increase in attendance at workplaces in late February, before dropping around the St Patrick’s Day bank holiday, then increasing again. 

“There’s a clear association between level of attendance in the workplace, and whether schools are open or closed,” said Nolan, referencing that attendance at workplaces dropped during the midterm break.

When asked about what people can do to lower case numbers more, Glynn highlighted the gains that have been made, including reduction of incidence rates in the 18-24 and over 65 age cohorts.

“We know that the vast majority of people are doing all they can. We know, for example, that 90% of people, nine out of 10 people are not visiting other households,” said Glynn.

“That’s phenomenal. That’s a huge ask for people to continue to do that over such a protracted period of time, but they are continuing to do it.”

Nolan also highlighted a rising incidence of Covid-19 in children, but suggested this may also be linked to a huge increase in testing referrals for children because parents were more vigilant about them potentially having the virus since the return of schools.

Vaccination

  • Dr Ronan Glynn said that while there is currently no guidance for those who have already been vaccinated, NPHET will be considering it at their meeting next week.

According to Glynn, GPs have gotten in touch saying that they are seeing a lack of clarity around a “vaccine bonus”.

The Deputy CMO referenced examples from GPs who say that people who have been vaccinated believe that they are protected in the days and weeks immediately after getting their jab.

“That’s a wrong assumption to make. People should assume that they’re not protected, and they don’t have protection, until two weeks after they’ve had their second dose of vaccine,” Glynn explained.

However, he highlighted that the country will begin to return to a level of normality as the level of vaccination increases throughout younger age cohorts.

Glynn used both the impact of vaccination on the prevalence of Covid-19 in nursing homes, which has dropped dramatically.

“There are brighter days coming,” he said, adding that people should continue to follow guidelines.

“It will bring us back to a level of normality, that, that really we haven’t experienced since, since 2019 effectively.”

The Deputy CMO was also asked about whether those who had been fully vaccinated could meet up indoors, or without socially distancing or wearing masks.

He said that although NPHET expected to issue updated advice on this next week, current public health guidelines still applied to those who had been vaccinated.

“People should assume that they’re not protected, and they don’t have protection, until two weeks after they’ve had their second dose of vaccine,” he said.

“For the majority of people in the community, we’re a good number of weeks away from that scenario.”

Community testing

  • Five “walk-in” community testing centres were brought into use today, with the Deputy CMO saying that there has been a good uptake so far.

According to Dr Miriam Owens, approximately 1,600 people attended the HSE’s community testing centres today.

The centres are currently located in areas of high Covid-19 prevalence, and people who do not have symptoms are encouraged to attend.

Owens said that each day, centres will be evaluated and uptake will be checked. Centres are likely to be placed in “black spots” or areas of high Covid-19 incidence.

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“We’ll go where the greatest need is and that’s where the greatest risk of disease is at the minute,” she explained.

She also encouraged anyone who has a testing centre within their 5km radius, and if they do not have symptoms of Covid-19 to come and get tested.

“Anyone who wants to come, they won’t be turned away.”

People who are showing symptoms of Covid-19 however, should not attend and should consult their GP to organise a Covid-19 test in the traditional manner.

Schools

  • Professor Philip Nolan played down suggestions that the recent stabilisation in Covid-19 cases is linked to outbreaks in schools.

Despite a number of outbreaks in school settings, the Chair of NPHET’s Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group explained that they were not driving the recent plateau in case numbers.

Nolan explained that, rather, there was a correlation in social visiting and re-opening of schools for a number of reasons, including children playing together outside school, children visiting each other’s houses, and adults being more relaxed about restrictions.

“There’s a complex interaction between whether schools are open or closed, and the level of social mixing,” he said.

“I know it’s a controversial thing for me to say, but simply because things happen at the same time […] doesn’t imply a cause-and-effect relationship between the return to learning and an increase in the number of cases detected in children in the classroom.”

Nolan also said that NPHET would be monitoring the situation in schools over the coming weeks, when all classes return as expected after Easter.

Dr Miriam Owens added that cases among children of school-going age were not being picked up in educational settings for the most part.

“We’re not picking up very significant transmission in the schools,” she said.

“Children are reflecting what’s in the community, and what seems to be happening in the community is people have been coming together, and perhaps not appreciating the risk.”

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