Desperate appeal for people to cut back on socialising

Surging cases and a rise in Covid-19-infected patients in hospital have put the country back in the grip of the virus, amid desperate appeals for people to heed warnings to cut back on their socialising.

ut time may already be running out to dramatically turn the tide, with “the Christmas lights already up” and the festive season of get-togethers with vulnerable relatives not far off, warned chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan.

He again asked people to reduce their mixing and visits to high-risk settings, as they are more likely to encounter the virus than at any time during the pandemic.

“If you are planning to meet up with people, try and reduce those contacts by half. If you are planning to go out two nights, just go out once. If you are planning to have 10 people around, have just five.”

Public health authorities in the Mid-West yesterday asked people in Limerick, Clare and North Tipperary to “limit” their social activity as infections doubled in the region in recent weeks. University Hospital Limerick was left with just one free intensive care bed yesterday.

Hospitals across the country were also struggling with overcrowding.

Counties particularly badly hit – with a 14-day incidence of more than 1,000 per 100,000 people – include Leitrim, Waterford, Laois, Louth, Donegal, Carlow, Longford, Meath, Westmeath, Cork and Kerry.

Another 2,975 new cases of the virus were reported yesterday with incidence rising in all ages except the over-80s who are benefiting from Covid-19 booster shots.

The number of Covid-19 patients in hospital jumped by 31 to 551 and another six were admitted to intensive care, bringing the total to 89.

Hospitals are seeing an average of 60 admissions a day, and six a day are going into intensive care.

On average, about 150 Covid-related deaths are being reported a month, with 74 deaths in the past week, 44 in November and 22 in October.

Deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said: “There is no guarantee the profile of the disease will change in the weeks to come.

“We cannot give any comfort that either cases or intensive care numbers will turn over the next number of weeks.”

Dr Holohan said “small shifts” in slippage in mask-wearing and other measures were having an “amplification” impact on the spread of infection.

The current level of socialising “cannot be sustained”, he warned. However, he said there were no plans to bring back restrictions at this point in time, although it could not be ruled out.

The key difference this Christmas will be that most people are vaccinated. This allows much of society to remain open. Christmas parties It will remain within people’s control to reduce risk, he said.

People can ask themselves: “Do I need to do this now or can I put it off? What’s the chance of me bumping into the virus? Well, now it is very high.”

Booster vaccines have yet to show significant impact among people in their mid to late 70s, as just 20pc have got their booster shot so far, but improvements are expected.

Asked if there was a timetable to roll out boosters to groups beyond the over-60s, the immuno-compromised and the healthcare workers, Prof Karina Butler, chair of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac), said there was not.

However, she said that “we are almost there” in making a decision on people under 60 with underlying conditions. Niac will consider other groups when they consider boosters are needed for them and when it is safe to do so.

While there is concern people in their 40s and 50 could have waning immunity from infection – rather than severe disease – now is the time to give boosters to those at highest risk of getting very sick if they caught the virus.

Visit our Covid-19 vaccine dashboard for updates on the roll out of the vaccination program and the rate of Coronavirus cases Ireland

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