Ireland is still on track for a planned significant easing of Covid-19 restrictions at the end of next month – although outbreaks in schools have shot up, Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said today.
here are signs that, although a lot of virus is still circulating, the country is past the peak of infection.
However, the number of outbreaks in schools more than trebled last week to 40 involving 191 cases of the virus.
They include 34 outbreaks in primary schools, three in post primary schools and three in special schools.
This has been linked to a surge in testing of young children in particular.
And there is concern about the numbers of cases in nursing homes.
The latest update on the pandemic was outlined by Dr Holohan and other members of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) at the Oireachtas Health Committee today.
Asked by Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane if we are we still on track for the ending of restrictions on October 22nd, he said he expects that we will be in that position in a number of weeks.
Questioned on whether another lockdown would be considered if the situation deteriorates, Dr Holohan said “we can never absolutely rule anything out”, but he does not expect to see severe restrictions reintroduced.
Around one to one and a half million people in the country are still unvaccinated either because they have not yet got a jab or because they are children with no vaccine for them.
Vaccine uptake levels are “almost unprecedented” in Ireland compared to the rest of the world, he added.
However, he added the level of infection “out there in the population” is contributing to outbreaks in nursing homes.
From June 27 to 11 September, there were seven outbreaks in long term care facilities and 51 outbreaks in nursing homes.
Among those 58 outbreaks, there were 896 cases, 31 people were hospitalised, and 31 people died.
Last week there were four new nursing home outbreaks with 24 cases.
However for older people who pick up the infection, its impact in terms of mortality “is of a much lower level” than previously, due to the vaccination programme, he said.
Today the number of Covid-19 patients hospital dropped below 300 to 292 of whom 60 people are in intensive care.
The rise of cases in primary school aged children is due to “the huge volume of additional testing” being carried out.
He said that he expects that in a very short period of time there will be a change in relation to the period children are absent from school when there is a case in a class.
More time is needed to monitor what is happening since schools reopened.
“We want to change those arrangements. Not just for school children, but in terms of testing, contact tracing and the wider public health management for society as a whole.