Significant improvements of all virus indicators - Nolan

The Chair of NPHET's Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group said that there has been significant and positive improvements of all indicators of Covid-19 over the last fortnight.

Prof Philip Nolan said the continued suppression of the virus is down to the collective efforts on simple things, such as reducing contacts.

He said that they have seen a smaller number of coronavirus cases per day over the last two weeks, than they had been reporting in the preceding four to six weeks. But that is above what they were reporting in early December and very significantly above what it was last summer.

He said the seven-day average is sitting at 400 cases per day, while the five-day average is at 358.

He said the number of people in hospital with the virus are below 200 for first time since mid-December.

Prof Nolan 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.

"So we're seeing a very significant impact of the vaccination programme" he said. "Not just on the number of cases in long-term residential care, but also to mortality in long-term residential care."

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn said that the latest number of coronavirus cases are "better than anything we could have hoped for a few weeks ago. It's fantastic that we are where we are".

Constant case of close contacts keeping things 'under control'

Prof Nolan said they have seen a significant reduction in coronavirus case counts - a 22% reduction.

He told the briefing that it is remarkable that close contacts for confirmed cases of Covid-19 in adults have remained near constant since mid-February, and this is keeping the disease under control.

"It is that constant case of close contact that is keeping things under control," he said.

Prof Nolan said the reduction in the number of new hospital admissions per day has been sustained over the last ten to 14 days, and the number of people in intensive care continues to decrease.

Symptomatic cases turned up at walk-in test centres

The briefing heard that a significant number of people who turned up at Covid-19 walk-in centres were symptomatic.

Prof Nolan said the centres, and the increased referral of children around schools reopening, would have increased the level of ascertainment.

"It [the centres] didn't just detected asymptomatic people, a significant number of people who turned up were symptomatic," he said. Prof Nolan also said that the centres picked up people who found it difficult to access testing or healthcare.

Dr Lorraine Doherty, National Clinical Director Health Protection HSE-HPSC, said that the walk-in centres have worked very well and seem to be very popular with people.

Pros and cons to changing interval of Pfizer jabs - Glynn

In relation to extending the interval between the two Pfizer-BioNTech jabs, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn said NPHET would not have a formal view on that.

He told the briefing that 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.

"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," he said.

"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.

'Really positive engagement' with vaccine portal - Reid

The Chief Executive of the Health Service Executive said that there has been "really positive engagement" with the vaccine portal.

Speaking at a HSE briefing at the Department of Health, Paul Reid said that it has been "a roller coaster of a week" in relation to the vaccination programme, but there have been many positive trends in terms of the transmission of the virus.

He told the briefing that the week has been "extremely challenging".

Mr Reid said there have been many "positive trends" throughout the week seen in the reduction of transmission levels, continued support from the public for the public health measures, and reducing numbers in hospital and ICU, which he described as "very positive".

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