The number of Covid-19 patients in most Munster hospitals dropped over the past week, despite case numbers remaining stubbornly high nationally.
University Hospital Limerick had 56 Covid patients one week ago, but this had dropped to 39 by Monday. At Cork University Hospital, cases dropped from 32 to 28 over the same period, while at University Hospital Kerry, Covid patient numbers fell from 22 to 17.
The decreases are in line with what has appeared to be a downward trend nationally until the start of this week.
However, cases increased from 27 to 29 at Waterford University Hospital and increased from nine to 13 at Tipperary University Hospital.
As pressure continues on testing centres with 29,363 PCR tests carried out in the country yesterday, some people are choosing to pay instead.
The Tropical Medical Bureau (TMB) is one of the larger companies offering testing at €99 each.
“The demand for them has certainly increased,” said CEO Andrew Lewis.
People with symptoms are advised not to book these tests, although any positive results are submitted to the HSE.
Mr Lewis said his organisation could offer vaccinations through its clinics as well, but added: “We have offered our services numerous times to the HSE.
"We haven’t had any response. We are 30 years in the business of vaccinations, yet we haven’t been engaged or approached.”
Up to Monday, 720,738 booster doses had been given, with an additional 81,953 third doses to immunocompromised people. Last week saw 186,792 doses given to these groups, and people getting their first doses. The HSE expects to ramp this up to 270,000 weekly through December.
Vaccination will play a role in suppressing the Omicron variant, according to Dr Edel McNeela. The lecturer in biochemistry at the Waterford Institute of Technology said, however, that it is “early days” yet in learning about this variant.
She said laboratories are looking at different factors, including transmissibility, and also at the immune responses from vaccinated people or from people that have recovered from Covid infection.
“We do need more information, I would say not to panic,” said Dr McNeela.
Sequencing based on PCR results will indicate whether this variant is here, and Dr McNeela said South African scientists gave the rest of the world a good start by sharing data so quickly.
“I think protection will be just the same as with the other variants, the same as what we have been doing with the Delta variant,” she said.
"It is those same things which are important for any new variant.”