Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn has said today's Covid-19 numbers are better than they could have hoped for.
Speaking at Department of Health's Covid-19 briefing, Dr Glynn said that the country is in a much better position now thanks to what people are doing.
In a later message on Twitter, he said: "What people have achieved by limiting contacts and following public health advice has made a very real, positive impact.
"Let's keep this going until the vaccination programme has had an opportunity to protect us, our friends and families."
His comments came as the Department of Health reported eight further Covid-19-related deaths and 309 new cases of the disease.
There are 51 patients with Covid-19 in intensive care units.
Of the deaths reported today, four occurred in April, two occurred in February and two occurred in January or earlier.
The age range of those who died was 48 to 92, while the average age of those who died was 79.
There have now been 4,820 coronavirus-related deaths in Ireland, while the total number of confirmed cases now stands at 242,402.
Of the new cases notified today, 168 are men and 141 are women. NPHET said 71% were under the age of 45, while the average age was 35.
There were 107 cases reported in Dublin, 30 in Kildare, 14 in Limerick and 14 in Offaly and the remaining cases are spread across 19 other counties.
The 14-day incidence rate of the virus per 100,000 is now 122.6. The counties with the highest rate of infection are Offaly (236), Kildare (208.1) and Dublin (191.8).
As of Tuesday 13 April, 1,094,964 Covid-19 vaccine doses have been administered in the State.
The Department of Health said 769,721 of those were administered to people receiving their first dose and 325,243 jabs were administered to people receiving their second dose.
In Northern Ireland, two further deaths of patients who had previously tested positive for Covid-19 were reported and another 159 cases of the virus were notified by the Department of Health.
This morning, there were 76 patients with the virus in hospital, eight of whom were in intensive care.
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Speaking at the briefing, Chair of the NPHET's Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group Professor Philip Nolan said they have seen significant and positive improvements of all indicators of the disease over the last two weeks.
He said the continued suppression of the virus is down to the collective efforts on simple things, such as reducing contacts.
Prof Nolan said they have seen a smaller number of cases per day over the last two weeks than they had been reporting in the preceding four to six weeks, but added that it is above what was being reported in early December and very significantly above what it was last summer.
He said the seven-day average is around 400 cases per day and the five-day average is at 358. He said the numbers in hospital is below 200 for first time since mid-December.
Prof Nolan said were 13 to 15 hospital admissions on average per day over the last two weeks and said NPHET was concerned that there might be an Easter effect, but it has been sustained through last week "so that's a very positive sign".
Prof Philip Nolan says it is remarkable that close contacts for confirmed cases of #Covid19 in adults have remained near constant since mid-February, and this is keeping the disease under control | Live #Covid19 blog: https://t.co/54j7mla8W1 pic.twitter.com/JkrA737aJu— RTÉ News (@rtenews) April 15, 2021
Prof Nolan said they have seen a significant reduction in case counts, a 22% reduction.
He said there have been fewer than five deaths per week over the last three weeks in long-term residential care settings, and ten or fewer for the last five weeks.
Prof Nolan said: "So we're seeing a very significant impact of the vaccination programme.
"Not just on the number of cases in long-term residential care, but also on mortality in long-term residential care."
He said that in the two to three weeks preceding the Easter break there was a significant increase in demand for testing.
Prof Nolan said the increase in testing did detect additional cases, but also the positivity rate decreased.
He said there were 15,000 tests over the last seven days with an overall positivity rate of 3%, and a positivity rate of 4.1% in public health labs.
Prof Nolan said incidence is continuing to decrease across all age groups, in particular those aged 65 and older.
'We are beginning to see, we think, the signs of a protective effect of vaccination in the wider community' Prof Philip Nolan says | Live #Covid19 blog: https://t.co/54j7mla8W1 pic.twitter.com/BNBGk2mywj— RTÉ News (@rtenews) April 15, 2021
He said healthcare workers typically accounted for "somewhere between 5% and 15% of all cases up until January", but the proportion of cases in healthcare workers "declined very significantly" from February.
They now account for about 2.5% of all cases, he said.
Prof Nolan said that as we have a surge of disease and a rapid increase of cases in the community, the proportion of cases accounted for by healthcare workers decreases as the levels rise in the community.
He said: "But after a surge, what happens is, as the sicker people in the community require care and come in contact with healthcare workers, you get an increase in the proportion of cases that are associated with healthcare workers."
From February onwards, he said the number of infections in healthcare workers "drops off very, very sharply" even though there is a sustained demand for healthcare for people with Covid-19 reflected in ongoing admissions to hospital.
He said this is evidence of a protective effect of vaccination on healthcare workers.
Also speaking at the briefing, National Clinical Director of Health Protection at the HSE, Dr Lorraine Doherty, said the level of transmission in outdoor settings is low.
She said they are proposing to evaluate antigen testing in third-level education settings and in the context of nursing homes.
Dr Doherty said the HSE proposes to set standards and advice about how to go about antigen testing.
She said walk-in testing centres have worked very well and seem to be very popular with people.
Dr Doherty said there have been people who are symptomatic and who see walk-in centres as a more rapid route to testing, people who have been identified as contacts of cases and want to get their tests quicker, and people who are genuinely asymptomatic.
She said: "To date we've had 31,647 people tested at these centres and we've picked up 847 positives from the walk-in referrals,
"It's all age groups really, with the highest proportion aged between 25 and 54."
Dr Doherty said there have been 19 cases of Covid-19 associated with mandatory quarantine hotels, 18 in hotel residents and one in a staff member.
She said most are the B117 variant, first discovered in the UK, four are probable variants of concern, but they have not got confirmed results on those yet.
At the briefing, Dr Glynn said NPHET is concerned about all variants but the important thing is that they do not get to replicate.
'At this point we would be envisaging that we would be asking people to work from home in so far as is possible for at least the next number of months until we have much much higher levels of vaccination', Acting CMO Dr @ronan_glynn says | #Covid19 blog: https://t.co/54j7mla8W1 pic.twitter.com/vlmqMw4YZj— RTÉ News (@rtenews) April 15, 2021
He said they are still asking people not to attend their workplace and employers should facilitate this.
Dr Glynn said this should continue for the months ahead and said there are still outbreaks in workplace settings.
Speaking on the vaccine roll-out, Dr Glynn said if the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is pulled in Ireland it would not be a major setback and the public should not be worrying unduly about it.
He said further information is needed from the European Medicines Agency on the jab.
Dr Glynn said he is not fearing, predicting or warning about an increase in cases over the coming weeks.
What people have achieved by limiting contacts & following public health advice has made a very real, positive impact.— Dr Ronan Glynn (@ronan_glynn) April 15, 2021
Let's keep this going until the vaccination programme has had an opportunity to protect us, our friends & families. pic.twitter.com/9AwsSUqdwx
In relation to extending the interval between the two Pfizer jabs, Dr Glynn said NPHET would not have a formal view on that. He said there are pros and cons to changing the interval.
If you extend it, he said, you extend the length of the entire programme and it will take longer for the population to be fully protected.
He said: "If you were looking at any one individual in the population, your preference would be to give them two doses four weeks apart and have them fully protected after five or six weeks.
"But when you look at it at a population level and in terms of everything else that's going on with this disease, you may have a different perspective on that, and there may be benefits to getting lots and lots of people vaccinated with a first dose and getting them partially protected.
"Or you may wish not to do that, in the interests of getting everyone fully protected as soon as you feasibly can."
He said all of that will have to be weighed up in the coming days in light of further developments.