high hopes | 

Fall in daily Covid cases shows positive signs that the Omicron wave may be running out of steam

Drop comes as rules relaxed so boosted close contacts can return to work
Dr Tony Holohan yesterday said public health advice on self-isolation and restriction of movement must put more emphasis on the use of higher-grade masks instead of cloth ones. Photo: Colin Keegan

Dr Tony Holohan yesterday said public health advice on self-isolation and restriction of movement must put more emphasis on the use of higher-grade masks instead of cloth ones. Photo: Colin Keegan

Eilish O'Regan

Positive signs that the Omicron Covid-19 wave may be running out of steam emerged yesterday as official daily cases dipped to 18,904 – down from the pandemic record of 26,122 nearly a week ago.

Numbers of Covid patients in hospital fell by 44 to 1,011 compared to the previous day.

And the number in intensive care with the illness remained stable at 92 patients.

The early hopeful indicators that Ireland may at last be turning the corner on this wave come as the risky relaxation of rules around self-isolation for Covid-19 positive cases and fully boosted close contacts begins today.

The wearing of medical masks or higher-grade respirator masks will be important for fully boosted close contacts with no symptoms, who now no longer need to restrict movements and can return in their thousands to hard-hit workplaces over the coming days.

HSE chief Paul Reid confirmed yesterday the health service would be sending antigen tests but not face masks to the general public.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said: “It is important that the latest public health advice around self-isolation and restriction of movement places increased emphasis on the use of higher-grade masks as opposed to cloth masks.”

Fully boosted close contacts, with no symptoms, who will be able to get back to their jobs, can use the medical masks for 10 days if the more expensive respirator masks are too costly for them, the HSE indicated yesterday.

Earlier, Mr Reid said the rise in Covid-19 hospitalisations had slowed down despite one in 16 of the population getting a positive PCR test over the last 14 days.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) will meet next week to consider whether any restrictions can be lifted.

Hospitals remain under extreme pressure with 15,000 health staff across the service absent on Covid-related leave, though this is expected to ease when new relaxed rules for boosted close contacts and people who are positive come into effect today.

Of the 1,011 patients in hospital with Covid-19 illness yesterday, 40pc were unvaccinated.

Of the 92 in intensive care around half were without a Covid vaccine.

Chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said around 50 out of every 1,000 people who got Covid last year ended up in hospital.

This is now down to five to 10 per 1,000.

“We’re not comparing like with like but there does seem to be a lower conversion of cases through to hospitalisation,” he said, pointing to the effect of vaccination as well as the evidence that Omicron is milder.

There has been a levelling off of patients with the virus who are seriously ill and in need of intensive care although the numbers are still high.

There is concern, though, at the numbers of patients who are picking up Covid-19 in hospital and 136 of these infections were recorded in the week to January 2.

There are currently 52 open outbreaks of Covid-19 in hospitals.

Overall, there are 506 outbreaks open across residential care and hospitals with 28pc of facilities for older people affected.

There were 56 outbreaks in nursing homes in the week ending January 8 and eight in HSE long-stay units.

However, cases among people aged over 85 account for as little as 0.44pc of the total level of infections in the last two weeks.

Meanwhile, around 715,000 people who are eligible for a booster vaccine shot have yet to come forward.

A proportion of these are likely to have been infected recently and they must wait three months before getting the jab.

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