Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan has said additional or wider public health measures are not being contemplated at the moment and a Covid-19 circuit breaker is not under discussion.

Dr Holohan said Amárach research data has shown that 1 in 4 people who attended hospitality venues last weekend were not asked for their Covid cert.

He added that they would encourage people to do the right thing and want the basic measures implemented in the various environments in which they are spending their time.

It comes as the Department of Health reported 3,174 new cases of Covid-19.

There have been 56 deaths since last Wednesday, bringing the total number of deaths related to Covid-19 to 5,492.

As of 8am this morning, there were 460 patients in hospital with Covid-19, 86 of which are being treated in ICU.

Dr Holohan said today's figure for new cases is an estimate due to a technical issue which has since been resolved.

Meanwhile, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the increasing number of Covid cases is "very, very" serious.

Speaking in the Seanad this evening, he criticised Sinn Féin over its decision to tonight vote against the extension of emergency laws until 9 February.

This includes rules around mask wearing, hospitality measures and fixed penalties.

He said the R number is now above 1 and a reduction in "discretionary social contact" even for a short while would reduce that number.

This evening, the Dáil passed a motion to extend the Emergency Health Measures (mask wearing and vaccine certs) until 9 February, 2022, with 82 TDs voting in favour and 44 against.

At today's NPHET briefing, Dr Holohan also said small changes in socialisation could have a big effect on the number of infections in the community.

In Northern Ireland, nine further deaths of patients who had previously tested positive for Covid-19 have been reported today.

The Department of Health there also reported another 995 cases of the virus. Yesterday morning, there were 378 Covid-positive patients in hospital, of whom 39 were in intensive care.

25% rise in case numbers in the past week

The Chair of the Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group has said there was a 25% increase in the number of cases between last week and this week.

Prof Philip Nolan told the NPHET briefing that the 14-day cumulative incidence is now approaching 700 per 100,000.

He said four weeks ago, there were around 1,500 cases a day, while yesterday, the seven-day average was 2,612.

He said the number of people in hospital on average over the past seven days was 493. He said the number of people being admitted to hospital per day is averaging around 60 per day, up 50% on four weeks ago.

Prof Nolan said the number of people being admitted to ICU is at six per day.


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'You've put up with a lot' to keep everybody safe

The HSE's Clinical Lead on Infection Control said what children are doing in schools is working and they have "no immediate plan to change what we're doing in schools".

Professor Martin Cormican told today's NPHET briefing that an increase in socialisation was driving the increase and it was not because children are going to school. He said it's a credit to the teachers and the children that they are making it work.

Professor Cormican thanked children for their efforts during the pandemic, saying it has been a difficult couple of years in which "you've put up with a lot to keep yourselves and your classmates and your teachers and everybody else safe".

Vaccine 'floodwall' is 'holding tight'

Earlier, the HSE's Chief Clinical Officer said the floodwall of vaccine protection is holding tight, despite the surge in Covid-19 cases.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Dr Colm Henry said that infection rates have risen from the mid 400s per 100,000 to 677 per 100,000.

However, he said that hospital and ICU figures have stabilised somewhat, saying the "harm they [the cases] are converting to is much lower than in was in January".

Dr Henry said that daily cases of Covid-19 have surged to over 3,000 in recent days, but that the harm and illness caused by infection is less as a result of vaccines.

He said that vaccines alone will not prevent transmission of the virus and he appealed to the unvaccinated to get the jab or to take up any outstanding boosters.

He added that modelling continues to show that transmission of Covid-19 in school settings is low, saying that 70,000 extra tests were carried out on children in September and just 1.7% of the tests were positive.

Dr Henry explained that it is more likely that children are acquiring Covid-19 at home, since the general population is beginning to mix more.

He added that the cancellations of elective activity is happening in some hospitals where there are high levels of occupancy and congestion.

Meanwhile, cases of influenza and the Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) have emerged to add to the pressure on the health service.

One in three beds in ICU are currently occupied by people with Covid-19 and the remainder by people with serious illness or trauma.

Booster programme to get under way this week

The HSE's lead for the Covid vaccination programme Damien McCallion has said that the booster programme gets under way this week for the over 60s and for healthcare workers.

Mr McCallion said the HSE has the capacity to administer 700,000 vaccines a week at vaccination centres with supplies in place and the ability to increase stocks if more booster vaccines are authorised.

He told RTÉ's News at One that booster vaccinations for those aged from 70-79 will take place in GP surgeries, while those aged 60-69 years will be vaccinated at vaccination centres.

He said that all people in these age categories will be contacted directly through their GP or HSE databases.

Mr McCallion said that the booster vaccination programme for the over 65s in residential care is now largely completed.

Among the over 80s, 130,000 out of a total 161,000 people have also received their third dose of vaccine, including those who are housebound.

He said that those aged under 60 who are immunocompromised are included in the early priority for a third dose of vaccine and that 43,000 of an estimated 90,000 people in this category have received their booster dose.

Mr McCallion said that the vaccination of 300,000 healthcare workers will begin this weekend at both vaccine centres and in hospitals.

It is expected that pharmacies will also play a role in vaccinating healthcare workers.

He said that vaccine supply is not a restraint in running the booster programme and there is ample supply to complete the programme.

He added that that for those receiving a third dose of vaccine, six months must have passed since their first vaccine, in line with NIAC recommendations.

Mr McCallion said that vaccine centres have been retained to support the booster programme and to keep pressure off the primary care system coming into the winter.

This will now allow the centres to administer booster vaccines and allow GPs to largely concentrate on other work, he said.

He also said that the Covid-19 testing and contact tracing system is coming under pressure, with a 20% rise in community referrals in recent days.

Mr McCallion said that the system is coping at the moment, but that surge plans are in place, including for the automation of some calls to close contacts.

He said "we are are coping at the moment in getting through the cases...but there is no question the increased cases are causing some strain on our system of testing and tracing and on the hospital system".

Mr McCallion said that infection is driven more by households and communities and said that school principals have done "phenomenal work" to keep schools safe.

Critical surge plan implemented

The CEO University of Limerick Hospital Group has said while there's been a drop in the number of patients being treated for Covid-19 since last week, they expect the high community transmission levels to be reflected in their acute services within the next fortnight.

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Colette Cowan said there are 36 in-patients across the hospital group being treated for the virus today, which is lower than last week when they were treating 50-60 patients.

However, she said community transmission levels remain high and they expect this to be reflected in their acute services in the next two weeks.

She said they had to implement a critical surge plan last weekend.

This involved converting four of their high-dependency beds into intensive care beds to enable the care of patients attending the Emergency Department who tested positive for Covid-19.

A number of Covid outbreaks in the hospital over the last month in the hospital have resulted in limitations on visiting hours to ensure patients' safety.

Ms Cowan said that they have seen "a very large rise" in paediatric attendances to the Emergency Department in the last two weeks.

She said the average number of patients presenting in EDs before the pandemic was 195, but it now averages at 226. It hit a peak of 310 on one day in the last two weeks.

On average 40-50 staff are on leave because of Covid related issues, she added.

Meanwhile, Minister of State Niall Collins had defended the proposal from the Minister for Health to extend
emergency legislation
providing for face masks, Covid-19 passes, enforcement powers and fixed penalty notices.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Claire Byrne, he said the Government has to act to protect human life and public health and makes decisions based on the advice and in consultation with NPHET.

Minister Collins said that the hope is that this would be the final extension of the powers, but legislation would be required to extend them beyond February.

Separately, Nursing Homes Ireland CEO Tadhg Daly said he was pleasantly surprised to hear Minister Donnelly say on RTÉ's Prime Time last night that serial testing in nursing homes is to resume.

Mr Daly said there are currently 62 outbreaks in nursing homes, but there were five or less cases in 83% of recent outbreaks, which shows that the infection control measures are working while the booster shot is giving residents extra protection.

He also said a small number of staff have been redeployed or have left because they do not want to be vaccinated, and said he believes the issue of mandatory vaccination for healthcare staff should remain on the agenda.

Additional reporting Micheál Lehane