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virus fears ‘Early warning signals’ as testing demand rises for first time in five weeks, says HSE chief Paul Reid

HSE boss Paul Reid has raised concerns that daily case numbers and hospital admissions are no longer falling as they have been in recent weeks.

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Health Service Executive chief executive Paul Reid

Health Service Executive chief executive Paul Reid

Health Service Executive chief executive Paul Reid

Community demand for coronavirus tests has increased by more than 9pc in the last week, the first rise for five weeks, the HSE said.

HSE chief executive Paul Reid said the trend was an “early warning signal” that progress made in bringing down positive case numbers and hospital admissions is stalling.

Mr Reid said there was “some concern” that the daily case numbers are no longer falling as they have been in recent weeks.

He told an HSE briefing on Thursday: “There are early warning signals for us that the brakes are being slightly put on in terms of improvements we’ve been making over the previous few weeks.

“Because the rate of decrease in hospitalisations for patients with Covid has slowed, particularly over the last few weeks, it’s actually stalled.

“And the slowing in reduction of the hospitalised cases mirrors the slowing in reduction of the overall cases happening in the community.”

He added: “Community testing demand has increased by over 9pc in the past week, community demand for testing has increased for the first time in five weeks.

“That’s just one of the early trends, early warning indicators I mentioned earlier on.”

In terms of vaccinations however, Mr Reid said the “glass is half full” despite problems with supply and the decision to pause administration of the AstraZeneca inoculation.

The European Medicines Agency is to decide on Thursday whether the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe after its use was paused by a number of European countries, including Ireland.

It followed reports by the Norwegian Medicines Agency of blood clots in a number of patients.

Mr Reid said the decision to pause its use demonstrated the “huge emphasis that we will continuously put on safety of the population”.

He added: “Just to reassure, we will respond quickly to whatever decision is recommended, and communicated onwards to us.

“Despite this disappointment we should, in my view, say the glass is half full.

“We have administered around 620,000 vaccinations, and we are witnessing, every day, the collapsing infection rates amongst residents in long-term care facilities, on health care workers and the oldest age groups in the population.”

The HSE anticipates that between 70,000 and 75,000 vaccines will be administered next week in the over-70s population.

The health service has now carried out four million coronavirus tests and conducted one million close contact calls.

The seven days up to March 17 saw 3,646 new cases notified, an increase of 6% on the previous week.

Almost 46% of new cases over the past two weeks were among people aged 19 to 44 .

Some 26% of new cases in that period were among children aged 0 to 18 years, and about 8.6% were among people aged 65 years and over.

Mr Reid said: “There are significant signs of stalling in the previously reported progress of cases.

“Numbers of new cases has slightly increased, the reductions in hospitalisations has certainly stalled last week. More positively, the numbers in ICU are reducing.”

Over the last 14 days, of the 7,048 new cases notified between March 3 and 16, 6% of them (422) have been admitted to hospital.

Of those, 9% of them were in the age group 0 to 18, with no ICU admissions in that period.

Just over 19% were in the age group 19 to 34 with two ICU admissions.

Almost 33% were in the age group 35 to 64 with four ICU admissions, and around 29% were 65 and over, with seven ICU admissions.

Mr Reid said: “Our hospitals still continue to have significant pressures in relation to Covid and management of Covid.

“We do hope that the progress we have seen in the past few weeks, picks up again in the coming couple of weeks.”

On Wednesday, a further 17 deaths of people with coronavirus and another 557 confirmed cases of the virus were notified.

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