This evening the Department of Health was notified of seven further Covid-related deaths and 1,372  new cases. 

It comes as the Minister for Health said that community vaccination against the virus will begin in mid-February, subject to regulatory approval.

Here are five things we learned from this evening's briefing by the National Public Health Emergency Team:

Continued improvement over Covid incidence

The Chair of the Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group said that there is "continued rapid improvement" in the incidence of Covid-19.

Professor Philip Nolan said that the number of people with Covid-19 in hospital has peaked and plateaued. 

He said that the number of admissions to hospital per day is decreasing and on average, it is below 100 over the past seven days. 

However, he said that the number of patients in intensive care is expected to remain very high for weeks to come.

"The fundamental message is that we are now going to have to maintain the efforts that have got us to this position for several weeks to come," Prof Nolan said. 

Number of close contacts remaining low - Nolan

Prof Nolan said that the numbers of close contacts associated with confirmed case are remaining low. 

He said that it has been below 2.5 since the beginning of January which is different to what happened last October. At the time, the number of contacts with people went down to a low level and immediately began to drift back up. 

"We can clearly see the efforts they [people] are making to stay apart to prevent transmission of the virus," he said.

Prof Nolan said that this is translating into a very large change in the behaviour of the epidemic, leading to a decrease in the number of cases at about 8 to 10% per day.

'No evidence' variant detected in Brazil is here

The Deputy Chief Medical Officer has said there is no evidence that a variant of the virus which was first detected in Brazil has arrived in Ireland yet. 

Dr Ronan Glynn said that testing is ongoing and profiling of the cases is ongoing. 

In relation to the number of coronavirus-related deaths, Dr Glynn said that the patterns of mortality are in keeping with what is expected given he volume of cases and age ranges. 

Prof  Nolan said that there is no evidence of increased mortality from a variant of the virus which was first found in the UK.  

Cannot see movement of one million people in next fortnight - Glynn

The Deputy Chief Medical Officer said he cannot see the movement of a million people - as would be happening if schools reopened - happening in the next fortnight.

Dr Glynn said in the first instance, there needs to be continued improvement with Covi-19 numbers.

"We need to be reassured that the current trajectory downwards continues. As we saw back in November and December, the situation can change very quickly.

"We need to watch this very closely over the next couple of weeks."

No discouragement in taking Vitamin D

Dr Ronan Glynn said he would not discourage anyone from taking Vitamin D supplements, "especially those who were cocooning".

He said that on Thursday, NPHET will be looking at the wider issue of any additional pharmaceutical measures that people might take if they were diagnosed within the community, including Vitamin D.

Dr Glynn said the vaccine is a ray of hope but "in the meantime, and for a significant number of months to come, we need to continue to undertake all the basic public health measures".

Clearly, he said, NPHET will be modelling the impact of the vaccination programme as it progresses. 

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