The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) is now concerned the new variant of Covid-19 is playing a larger role in the high levels of transmission seen here in recent weeks.
This comes as authorities confirm 10 deaths bringing the total number of Covid-related deaths to 2,307 and 6,521 cases of the virus in Ireland.
Authorities have now confirmed 127,657 cases of Covid-19 in Ireland altogether.
There are 1,022 people hospitalised which is higher than the peak reached in April, and 101 in ICU with Covid-19. There were 18 admissions to ICU in 24-hours but just four discharges.
A breakdown of the case data released by the Department of Health shows:
- 3,070 cases are men and 3,432 are women;
- 62% of cases are under 45 years of age;
- The median age of cases confirmed today is 37 years old.
Data from the government hub shows 6,368 positive swabs which is a positivity rate of 22.26% positivity from 28,609 swabs for today.
Among the badly-affected counties is Limerick with 382 new cases and the third highest 14-day incidence rate in the country at 1,399.2.
Waterford is also seriously affected with an incidence rate of 907.2 and Cork has a rate of 905 over 14 days.
The rate of infection is also high in Co Clare where there are 899.7 cases per 100,000 population.
The national 14-day incidence rate has risen sharply again to 936.4 cases per 100,000 from 819.1.
Nphet had previously played down the role of the variant based on genomic testing, but this is now indicating changes.
In the Chief Medical Officer’s latest letter to health minister Stephen Donnelly, sent on January 5, he wrote genomic tests confirmed that out of 70 samples taken before December 20, it was found in 8.6%, and on the week to January 3 it was found in 24.9% of 189 samples.
Speaking tonight, Chair of the NPHET Epidemiological Modelling Group Professor Philip Nolan said the new variant now seems to have role in accelerating the number of cases.
And Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn stressed that the messaging remains the same as social distancing, mask-wearing and hand hygiene continue to protect against this variant.
Plans to open classes for Leaving Certificate students were cancelled tonight.
Dr Holohan could not comment directly on the decision, but asked about the safety risks shortly before the change in plans he said: “We can’t offer advice to the effect that any setting will have no risk.”
And in relation to reported calls for off-licences to be closed, he warned that typically drinking alcohol decreases risk awareness.
He said: “Alcohol has played a role, this virus loves alcohol, that is a concern for us.”
Prof Nolan said the reproduction-number is between 2.4 and 3 now, and the modelling shows a possibility of between 1,500 and 2,500 people in hospital by mid-January depending on how the current restrictions impact on transmission.
He said: “We are clearly reporting exceptionally high levels of disease and the fastest rate of growth, we have a considerable way to go to suppress the virus.”
All of the indicators used for modelling including ICU numbers and positivity are at “unprecedented high rates” he said.
The letter to health minister Stephen Donnelly is available on the gov.ie website.
This comes as the nurses’ union INMO announced an emergency meeting for tomorrow to discuss staff shortages related to Covid-19.
The backlog of cases following the Christmas spike up to January 5 has now been caught up on, Nphet has said.
The latest public health analysis of Covid-19 infection in Ireland comes as the HSE confirms more than 15,000 people have so far received the coronavirus vaccine.
Based on the current vaccine supply, the HSE expects to vaccinate 135,000 people from these sectors by the end of February.