Parents have been urged to impose limits on children’s activities amid warnings that those aged five to 12 years are now being infected with Covid-19 at a higher rate than the rest of the population.
The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) has also said that vaccinations are “not performing as well as hoped” in reducing the transmission of the virus.
Covid infection rates are growing at a concerning rate, according to chief medical officer Tony Holohan, who said the trajectory of the virus suggested the situation could get worse.
In the last week, 14,758 new cases were identified — the fourth highest weekly total since the pandemic began.
There has also been a 27% increase in patients being admitted to hospital over the past two weeks, rising to 503 yesterday. Of these, 101 were in intensive care units (ICU).
Nphet also confirmed 67 deaths in the past week.
Deputy chief medical officer Ronan Glynn said children of primary school age are now the most likely to become infected, based on current trends.
Figures have shown 4,393 children in this age group were infected in the two weeks to last Monday. This is up from 2,930 over a similar period early this month.
“We are watching that very closely,” said Dr Glynn. “It is not entirely clear what is driving it.”
Dr Holohan also voiced concern about the five to 12 age category, saying the positivity rate from testing of this cohort is “increasing quickly”.
“We are concerned about the rate of transmission in that age group,” said Dr Holohan. “It is the highest age-specific incidence.”
In contrast, the infection rate for under-fours, who are also unvaccinated, is significantly lower, and severe illness remains uncommon in all children, said Dr Glynn.
He has asked parents to consider imposing a cap on social and sporting activities, suggesting children do not need to engage in every activity available.
“If your children are going on playdates or engaging in sport, think about all of the other activities they’re engaging in and just see do they need to be engaging in everything that they’re engaging in, given how high the incidence is in the country at the moment,” said Dr Glynn.
He said Halloween ‘trick or treating’ is safe as long as it remains outdoors with one group of children and is restricted to a single outing.
Nphet has also reminded the public that vaccinations alone cannot stop the spread of the virus.
Ireland has among the highest vaccination rates in the world, with around 93% of adults and 75% of the entire population now double-jabbed.
Dr Holohan said vaccinations have been successful in preventing severe infections but added: “In truth, they are probably not performing as well as we might have hoped in terms of preventing transmission.
“There is an impact on transmission, by and to people who are vaccinated, but it’s not as great as we might like.
“We have prevented, in this country, thousands of hospitalisations, hundreds if not more deaths, and hundreds of ICU admissions, than would have occurred in this wave, by virtue of the high levels of people who are vaccinated.
“What we’re not able to prevent through that vaccination is the wave of transmission.”
Dr Holohan said no country in the world would be able to dispense with all Covid restrictions through vaccination alone.
He did not rule out the introduction of further restrictions if case numbers and hospitalisation rates continue to grow but urged people to get back to the basics of hand washing, mask wearing, and social distancing to avoid this.
New data from the Behavioural Research Unit of the ESRI has revealed 20% of people no longer follow public health guidelines.
The Department of Health yesterday confirmed 1,631 new cases of Covid. Of the 101 people in ICUs, unvaccinated people accounted for 50 patients; six were partly vaccinated. Five patients in ICUs were unvaccinated pregnant or recently pregnant women.