There have been 5,483 new cases of Covid-19 confirmed to the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) this evening.
his is the highest daily case total since early January and one of the highest daily figures in Ireland since the pandemic began.
There are 549 people in hospital with Covid-19 today, of which 96 are in ICU. There have been 76 new cases confirmed in hospitals in the past 24 hours, according to latest HSE data.
There were just 15 adult ICU beds free in the country on Thursday night and one paediatric ICU bed. Eighteen of the country’s 28 hospitals had no intensive care beds available.
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Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said: “Today we are reporting one of our highest ever daily figures of confirmed cases of Covid-19. This is another indication of the very significant increase in the incidence of disease in almost all age-groups across the population.
“As we look ahead to the weekend, we need to continue to make every effort we can to drive down incidence of disease and break the chains of transmission. Before you leave the house, think about the number of people you are going to meet, and the risk associated with the activities you have planned.”
He urged people to keep their contacts low and avoid crowds, wear a mask correctly, meet outside if possible and avoid poorly ventilated indoor spaces.
He said while vaccines are extraordinarily effective against severe disease, the impact of Covid on individuals is unpredictable.
“There are currently 549 people in hospital, 96 people are receiving critical care and this disease continues to have a very significant impact on families, communities and across the health service,” Dr Holohan said.
“If you have any symptoms of Covid-19, you should assume that you have this virus, self-isolate immediately and arrange a test. Do not assume that it’s just a cough or a cold.”
It comes as Nphet advised people who regularly engage in higher Covid risk activities such as going to bars, restaurants, nightclubs and the cinema should consider using a rapid antigen test at least twice a week spaced by three days.
This would also apply to people who make multi-household home visits, participate in indoor contact sports and car share with people from other households.
However, workplaces now account for the greatest share of close contacts after households, following the lifting of work from home guidelines.
The advice is contained in his latest letter to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly following this week’s meeting of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet).
It comes as the Taoiseach said expanded use of the rapid home test kits for the public was being considered.
Dr Holohan said Ireland remains vulnerable to a further deterioration in Covid case numbers depending on a number of factors, including levels of social contact, adherence to basic public health protective measures and levels of immunity across the population.
While Nphet is not currently recommending the re-imposition of social and economic restrictions, it must be noted that this cannot be fully ruled out.
He pointed to the most recent social activity measure (SAM) data showing that workplaces account for the greatest share of close contacts after the household, with a marked increase in early September.
“It also shows a small but rising share of those attending work reporting that they could work from home but prefer their workplace or feel pressured to attend, along with downward trends in mitigation behaviours in workplaces continuing in October,” Dr Holohan said.
“The return to the workplace involves a potential increase in contacts both directly (in the workplace itself) and indirectly – travelling to/from workplace and linked socialisation activities – and while the potential impact will be related to the level of current behaviour, recent advice from SAGE (UK) states “with high confidence that working from home can reduce transmission significantly”.
Dr Holohan said the following is therefore recommended:
• The Government consider re-instating previous advice to work from home where possible;
• There is ongoing communications targeted at employers and employees regarding protective measures in the Work Safely Protocol for those who have to attend the workplace, eg staggered shifts and breaks, appropriate mask wearing, not attending if symptomatic, pod systems for staff, and mitigation measures if sharing transport.
Dr Holohan said the Government should consider extending the Covid cert to settings where there is high risk of transmission, through close contact or other activities, not yet covered by the current regime.
There needs to be a “refreshed, consistent, and cross-government communications campaign” on Covid-19 safety advice for the public.
The letter also noted the cross-Government and cross-sectoral stakeholder engagement around all elements of the public health advice.
“In particular, management enforcement of the correct wearing of masks by staff and, where relevant Covid-19 Cert compliance, helps to set the tone and telegraph the level of co-operation with the public health advice to staff and customers,” Dr Holohan said.
There needs to be new emphasis on how people should wear a mask correctly and people need to be reminded to wear a face mask crowded outdoor settings – for example outdoor spectator events – with increased, visible enforcement.
The letter also stated there should be targeted communications to those for whom it is currently recommended to wear medical grade face masks – the over 70s and medically vulnerable, and those with symptoms of Covid-19 or close contacts in a household setting.
There should be a renewed focus on compliance with mask wearing, including
Nphet also said that based on Hiqa advice the length of time someone is presumed to retain immunity after recovering from Covid should remain at nine months.
Meanwhile, the Taoiseach said the Government is considering wider distribution of antigen tests to the public, following months of debate over their effectiveness.
Micheál Martin today confirmed that the expanded use of the rapid tests is under consideration as “people are using antigen testing now more frequently”.
Ireland has lagged behind other countries in Europe in terms of its use of the tests.
Speaking in Galway, Mr Martin said: “People are using antigen testing now more frequently, and there is and government will be giving consideration in terms of wider distribution of antigen testing to the public.”
Speaking about the latest Nphet letter overall and the advice to work from home where possible, the Taoiseach said: “I received the letter (from Nphet) this morning in transit via email from the Minister for Health. I think the first point is the numbers are increasing and that is a concern.
“I think the main import of Nphet’s advice is on all of us to restrict our socialisation; monitor out behaviour.
“And a very strong piece on mask wearing, particularly in outdoor sporting events that masks must now be worn in large crowds or congregated settings. Particularly for people who are vulnerable or have underlying conditions medical grade masks must be worn.
“And just generally if we all just overall reduce socialisation and then cumulatively that will have an effect.
“Secondly, on the return to work the CSO estimate that it’s at about 50pc now. Nphet are advising that we reconsider that advice.
“The Government will consider that early next week on Monday and Tuesday.”
He noted the advice of Sage in the UK that travelling to and from work increased risk, but also pointed out that employers and trade unions had done “very effective work” on safety protocols.
The Taoiseach also said the advice around extension of vaccine certs would be looked at but there “is nothing specific as of yet, in terms of other sectors”.
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Questioned about mixed messaging from officials, considering nightclubs were now open but people were being asked to work from home, he said: “I’ve heard that argument so often but the bottom line is Nphet advises, and the government then will decide… When you reopen society it’s not as clear cut locking down society.”
Turning to vaccinations and booster shots, he added: “The overarching advice really is around communicating to the public the fact that the cases are increasing; the vaccination are working in terms of creating some kind of stability around admissions to hospitals, ICU’s and mortality.
“The booster campaign, the letter says from Nphet, is effective. Particularly now in the over-80s we can see declining numbers getting ill.
“We expect to see that continue on in the rollout to the over 60s and healthcare workers. So the continued rollout of the booster campaign will also be an important element of dealing with this acute phase of the pandemic.”
Asked about a contingency plan if numbers keeps surging, Mr Martin said: “Nothing can be ruled out into the future, that’s clear from the advice of Nphet. What you have read and heard is the limit to what Nphet is advising government at this particular point in time.
“And I think the impact of the booster is something we will keep an eye on in respect to the degree to which it reduces admissions to hospitals in certain age cohorts.”