The Government's senior health advisers have warned of a fourth wave of Covid-19, as it was revealed that 'very particular' clustering of blood clots led to the suspension of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Deputy chief medical officer Ronan Glynn said there is an "understandable focus" on vaccine rollout, but stressed that the virus is already surging in other European countries.
“While, in time, vaccines will have a very significant positive impact on Covid, they will not stop a further wave of disease over the coming weeks," he said.
Dr Glynn said St Patrick’s Day must be a 'quiet one', urging people not to socialise, to avoid getting takeaway pints as a group, or meeting indoors.
He said an equivalent rise here to what's happening in Europe would see average case numbers quickly hit 1,600 per day.
The concern comes as a top adviser on the country's vaccine rollout programme explained that a 'very rare' set of circumstances led to the suspension of the AstraZeneca jab.
Professor Karina Butler, chair of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC), said the particular blood clotting that occurred in patients in Norway sparked concern.
Health officials received an alert from Norway at 10pm on Saturday night, met at 11pm, and sent the advice to pause the rollout before 2am on Sunday.
"This isn't about just the normal clots that can occur," she said. "It was about a few very particular and rare conditions occurring, clustering together. For example, the three cases in Norway were in a single hospital within a two-week period — that just made one say, 'we need to stop and think'," she said.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) is expected to complete its safety review of AstraZeneca later this week, but Prof Butler said there are no guarantees that a final decision will be made.
She said Ireland is ready to immediately resume the rollout of AstraZeneca if it is recommended by the EMA.
Meanwhile, Professor Philip Nolan, chair of the Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, echoed concerns about increased socialising, with the return to schools, better weather arriving, and the St Patrick's Day festivities tomorrow.
“We can see Halloween in our caseloads, we can see the socialisation in our caseloads. We are coming up to more festive events," he said.
Prof Nolan said last week showed a decrease of only 3% in case numbers, which is a “strong signal” of problems ahead.
Dr Ray Walley, a member of the national Covid-19 GP liaison committee, said he has seen a spike in cases in his practice over the last week, and he urged people to keep making "emotionally tough choices".
He gave the example of a woman who attended the funerals of her two brothers and caught Covid-19, as did other members of the family.
He said: “The mistakes are still the same.
Dr Walley said GPs support the decision to pause the roll-out of AstraZeneca until further clinical information is available.
Meanwhile, the Government's deadline of yesterday for getting the mandatory hotel quarantine system up and running has been missed. Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has now said he is unable to definitively state when that will happen.
It is now ten weeks since the Government promised it would introduce it and two weeks after the legislation was passed by the Dáil.