The impact of Covid-19 is increasing and substantial changes in the hospitalisation rate can be seen, the Chief Medical Officer has said.

Dr Tony Holohan was speaking after the Department of Health reported another 1,269 cases today, bringing the total number to 52,256.

Thirteen people who were diagnosed with the virus have died, taking the overall death toll to 1,865.

The number of people being treated in intensive care units is unchanged since yesterday evening at 34.

Of the cases notified today, 657 are men and 609 are women, 63% are under 45 years of age.

The median age is 34.

The breakdown of today’s cases is: 221 in Meath, 203 in Dublin, 116 in Cork, 80 in Cavan and the remaining 649 cases are spread across all remaining counties.

Dr Holohan said there has been a significant number of deaths reported, all from recent days.

Dr Tony Holohan

Speaking at a press conference this evening, he said the burden of this infection and the impact it is having is increasing.

Dr Holohan added that substantial changes in the hospitalisation rate can be seen.

The country will move to Level  5 restrictions from midnight tomorrow for six weeks.

Dr Holohan said it currently takes two days for someone saying they have symptoms and they need to be tested - and this needs to be shortened.

Dr Siobhán Ni Bhriain, Consultant Psychiatrist and HSE Integrated Care Lead, urged people to turn up for their day seven test.

Dr Holohan said we will get this virus back under control and when we do, the response capacity of the public health system will be the key thing to protect us.

He said the Health Service Executive has done an incredible job to build a system of testing and contact tracing at a scale that is unprecedented.

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Dr Ni Bhriain said the more Covid-19 we have in the system, the harder it is to deliver non-Covid care.

She said at the start of the pandemic, the mental health service was maintained at 90%, now some of it has moved to Zoom.

However, it is not how the HSE would like to do it, she said, and it wants to return to home visits and community day hospitals which are a "vital" part of the delivery of these services.

She said older people are more likely to suffer from anxiety and loneliness while younger people are more likely to suffer from thoughts of suicide or self harm.

Dr Ní Bhriain said it is not translating into actual suicide numbers but the HSE is very aware of it and the mental health services are building up responses to it.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Heather Burns said schools are not key drivers of Covid-19 in the community and the data supports the position that schools are not high risk places for the virus.

She said that quite often children and adults who have become symptomatic in school have been exposed in the community.

Dr Burns said, to date, there has been testing of close contacts across 519 schools and childcare facilities.

She said 12,658 adults and children have been tested in these facilities and 352 additional cases, over and above the index case, have been tested.

Schools

This gives a positivity rate of close contact in the school setting of 2.8% when the national positivity rate is running at about 7.2%.

In Northern Ireland, 913 people tested positive for Covid-19 in the past 24 hours and three further deaths have been reported.

Holohan targets under 100 cases a day within 6 weeks

Earlier today, Dr Holohan said that if coronavirus infections get down to less than 100 cases a day by the beginning of December, officials would achieve what they are setting out to do over the next six weeks.

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Dr Holohan said this would protect public health, the school and education services, vulnerable people and the health service, in particular for people who are waiting for operations, appointments and services.

He said the current level of infection in the population represents a risk to all of these.

Dr Holohan said a reproductive number of 0.5 would be a sufficient level of transmission to move out of strict restrictions. 

"We are confident that if we can follow public health advice in the same way that it was followed in the early part of this year, and drive the reproductive number to 0.5 that we can get there within the time period that we have identified."


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Speaking in the Dáil this afternoon, the Taoiseach said it will be "very challenging" to achieve this targeted reduction in the reproductive number.

Responding to Labour Party leader Alan Kelly during Leaders' Questions, Micheál Martin said the aim is to get the "trajectory going downwards" to a point where this number is consistently below 1.

Meanwhile, Dr Holohan said each one of us has to behave in a manner that helps drive down the level of infection in the population.

In particular he urged those with symptoms, who might have had a test, those who are awaiting a test result, or those who are positive with Covid-19, to self-isolate in their home or stay in their own room if they live with other people.

He said there have been about 15,000 cases in the last two weeks of people with the infection.

Dr Holohan said the number of daily cases, 14-day incidence rate, positivity rate, hospital admissions and ICU admissions must all come down to a radically lower level than we either have now or that we are at risk of seeing in the coming weeks.

"We simply have to do everything we can to try and maintain the education of our children," he said.