The Department of Health has been notified of six further coronavirus-related deaths and 829 new cases.

At a briefing this evening, the National Public Health Emergency Team said that there has been a total of 3,687 Covid-related deaths in Ireland and a cumulative total of 204,397 infections.

As of 5 February, there have been 230,766 doses of Covid-19 vaccines administered. 151,212 people have received their first dose and 79,554 of these have received their second dose.

Here are five key points from this evening's NPHET briefing at the Department of Health:

Steady progress against all indicators of virus - Nolan

The chairperson of NPHET's Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group said there continues to be steady progress against all indicators of Covid-19. 

Professor Philip Nolan said the resumed testing of close contacts is now being seen, which is resulting in the reporting of inflated case numbers over the last few days.

He said the seven-day moving average stands at 990 cases, down from almost 1,200 less than a week ago, to last Thursday and down from a peak of 6,520 reported in early January.

Prof Nolan said that with the resumption of close contact testing, there is an increased proportion of younger people with Covid-19 being detected. 

He also said over the last ten days, the proportion of asymptomatic cases has risen again to 20%, where it was before.

Concern over data on South African variant of virus

The Director of the UCD National Virus Reference Laboratory has said that there is a concern about data in relation to a variant of the virus first detected in South Africa. 

Dr Cillian De Gascun said that this is because it has additional amino-acid changes compared to another variant of Covid-19, which was first detected in the UK.

"Certainly we want to contain and control the importation of any South African variant for the coming months," he said.

Dr De Gascun said that the key thing is to focus on public health measures.

He said we need to reduce the chance for the virus to replicate and reproduce, because that is when mutations occur.

The variant first reported in England continues to dominate among new infections reported here.

'Avalanche' of data expected in coming weeks - Glynn

The Deputy Chief Medical Officer said that an "avalanche" of data is anticipated over the coming weeks, which will hopefully "reinforce the reasonable premise" that the vaccines will have an impact on transmissibility.  

Dr Ronan Glynn also said that it is "too early at this point" to say when people may be able to visit nursing homes.

"But clearly once older people are vaccinated and protected themselves, once healthcare workers are protected and vaccinated themselves, there will be an ability to ease up and more opportunities for interaction. 

"But I think it's too early at this point to be giving definitive dates around things like that, I don't want to raise false hope."

He said recommendations around nursing homes have been made throughout the pandemic and further recommendations will be made as the disease declines.

Still on track for 200-400 virus cases a day by end of month

Prof Nolan told the briefing that we are still on track for 200-400 Covid-19 cases a day by the end of the month, if people continue to stay home and not socialise.

He said he would expect a period of stabilistion of a week or ten days at most, before the suppression of the disease would win out over the introduction of asymptomatic cases into the case count. 

He said case counts have continued to decline, but just at half the rate they were declining ten days ago. 

Brazil variant of virus not detected in Ireland

Dr De Gascun said that a variant of the virus first detected in Brazil has not been detected in Ireland at this point in time. 

He also told the NPHET briefing that the number of cases of the virus which was first detected in South Africa is up to 11. 

All of these cases are directly associated with travel, so there is no evidence of ongoing circulation of that variant in the community here.

Dr Glynn said other variants are circulating globally, and if one of those was to enter Ireland and become the dominant variant and have an impact on vaccine effectiveness, then "clearly it would have a knock on impact". 

He said the challenge is to get disease numbers as low as possible here, and keep them as low as possible so that we are not importing new cases that could potentially be a mutation, and so that any virus that is replicating is kept at as low a level as possible.

"Viruses can't mutate if they're not replicating," he said. 

"So the fewer the amount of virus we have in this country, the less chance there is of a mutation that's going to have a knock on impact on vaccine effectiveness."

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