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Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer

Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer

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Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer

Large family get-togethers and office parties are not safe and will not be possible this Christmas because of Covid-19, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan warned last night.

He said he still cannot say if he will be able to recommend a change from Level 5 in December - with a letter to be sent to the Government on November 26 - but he is "getting more hopeful".

Dr Holohan again warned against friends and family flying home from abroad for Christmas.

He said this is "non-essential" and it increases the risk of people bringing the virus with them and reseeding it here after it has been driven down.

Cases of the virus are dropping by 6pc a day and the R number, which shows how the spread is growing or shrinking, is now down to around 0.6.

At this rate the daily number of cases will be around 50 to 100 a day by early December, which will allow for flexibility around relaxing restrictions.

There were growing signals that the country will move to Level 3, which could stabilise the spread well into the new year, when a potential vaccine could ease the pressure.

There were 395 confirmed cases of Covid-19 yesterday and one death. It brings the death toll this month to 33.

Professor Philip Nolan, who tracks the virus, said "significant progress" is being seen but he expressed concern at the level of infection in older age groups, who account for around 13pc of infections.

"Data suggests Level 3 measures stabilised case numbers, while Level 5 measures were required to suppress transmission, especially when infection rates are high," he said.

"If we sustain our efforts we can force infection down to very low levels."

The fall in the rate of the disease in Dublin has now caught up with the rest of the country.

Among yesterday's cases 132 were in Dublin, 31 in Cork, 27 in Donegal, 27 in Limerick and 27 in Galway. The remaining 151 were spread over 18 counties.

Compliance

However, Dr Holohan said: "Not every part of the country has experienced the same reductions. For example, Donegal's 14-day incidence is at 281 per 100,000, compared to the national average of 135 per 100,000."

The fall in incidence is slower than in the rest of the country and although proximity to Northern Ireland, where rates are higher, has been blamed, doctors yesterday strongly signalled there were problems with compliance as well.

Asked about the influence of the Border, Dr Colm Henry of the HSE cautioned about "reading too much into that narrative".

The numbers of people hospitalised with Covid-19 is not showing any dramatic reduction, although it is stable.

There were 279 patients with the virus in hospital yesterday, including 39 in intensive care.

However, Naas, Limerick and Letterkenny are all battling outbreaks of the virus and are struggling due to large numbers of staff being out of work, mostly as a result of being close contacts.

It has led to a curtailment of services, particularly in Naas Hospital.

Meanwhile, HSE chief Paul Reid said vulnerable groups - including older people, those with underlying illnesses and healthcare workers - are likely to get the Covid-19 vaccine first.

He said the task force set up to oversee the delivery and administration of the vaccine will need to work out logistics, such as keeping it at minus 80C, and there is some capacity for this among large pharmaceutical companies.

Transportation of the vaccine as well as locations where it will be stored are other major issues ahead, he added.

Elsewhere, Dr Vida Hamilton, national clinical advisor and group lead, acute hospitals, commented: "We are seeing an increase in emergency department attendance, which is a positive indication the public are continuing to access Covid and non-Covid healthcare.

"Our hospitals are busy as they implement important infection prevention protocols and our workers are grateful for public understanding and support for these safety measures."

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