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spreading fast New hope on Covid restrictions – but young now hardest hit by infections

:: Nphet chief sees grounds for optimism in data

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Taoiseach Micheál Martin meets pupils from St. Brigid's Girls NS in Glasnevin, Dublin - Isabella Ryan (10), Ella Brereton (9), Charlotte Collins (9), Caoimhe Flanagan (10), and Faye Haverty (10) - who made their first holy communion. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA

Taoiseach Micheál Martin meets pupils from St. Brigid's Girls NS in Glasnevin, Dublin - Isabella Ryan (10), Ella Brereton (9), Charlotte Collins (9), Caoimhe Flanagan (10), and Faye Haverty (10) - who made their first holy communion. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA

Taoiseach Micheal Martin meets pupils from St. Brigid's Girls National School in Glasnevin - Isabella Ryan (10), Ella Brereton (9), Charlotte Collins (9), Caoimhe Flanagan (10), and Faye Haverty (10) - who made their communion Photo: Brian Lawless/PA

Taoiseach Micheal Martin meets pupils from St. Brigid's Girls National School in Glasnevin - Isabella Ryan (10), Ella Brereton (9), Charlotte Collins (9), Caoimhe Flanagan (10), and Faye Haverty (10) - who made their communion Photo: Brian Lawless/PA

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Taoiseach Micheál Martin meets pupils from St. Brigid's Girls NS in Glasnevin, Dublin - Isabella Ryan (10), Ella Brereton (9), Charlotte Collins (9), Caoimhe Flanagan (10), and Faye Haverty (10) - who made their first holy communion. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA

Chief medical officer Tony Holohan has raised hopes of an early lifting of restrictions as new data showed the young are now hardest hit by coronavirus infections.

Covid is now “a disease of younger people”, with Nphet saying people aged 19 to 24 are affected more than any other cohort.

However, Dr Holohan said that if the rapid uptake of vaccines continued, Nphet would be optimistic that some of the remaining restrictions on society could be removed sooner than expected.

Professor Philip Nolan, chair of the Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, said: “This is, at the moment, very much a disease of younger people. The incidence is dominated by those aged 19 to 24, followed by those aged 13 to 18 – but in that age group it is mostly 16- and 17-year-olds – followed by those aged 25-34.”

He told a Covid-19 briefing the incidence in older age groups, and those younger than 12, has not increased much compared with the 16- to 35-year age group.

He pointed out most of the cases are in “younger unvaccinated people”.

However, Prof Nolan said it was very difficult to estimate the growth rate of Covid-19 over the next two weeks.

He revealed that “what seems to have happened was there was kind of a pent-up need to socialise and travel which seems to have been released in early July”.

“I do think there’s grounds for optimism. It seems to be quite clear after 18 months, people are very clearly reading the risk, and if our collective behaviour starts to push case numbers up, people collectively become more cautious,” he said.

He said towards the middle of June they began to see the early stage of an exponential rise in case counts and then in early July there was an unexpectedly large number of cases over about five to six days.

There were things people were looking forward to doing at the beginning of July and they did these.

“Some of those things led to viral transmission so we harvested a very significant number of cases in or around July 12 to 15,” he said.

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It came as the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) said it had been notified of 1,408 cases of Covid-19 yesterday. Some 152 patients were hospitalised, of whom 26 were in intensive care units. Currently, 2pc of cases are being hospitalised.

However, Prof Nolan said length of stay was shortening for people being admitted to hospital, suggesting vaccination is offering many of them additional protection.

It has decreased from around 15 days on average across the entire pandemic to closer to seven days through May and June.

Dr Holohan said vaccine registration was now available for 16- to 18-year-olds and hopefully in the next number of weeks health chiefs would be in a position to offer registration to those aged 12 to 15.

“If we keep pushing on with the kind of uptake rates we have seen in some of the older age groups, which by international standards are some of the best in the world, that gives us a lot of reason for optimism that the conditions that we think will need to be satisfied to allow us move away from some of the restrictions that still remain in place, could be met,” he said.

Dr Holohan said although great progress had been made there was a significant number of restrictions in place.

“We think the progress we are making as a country in terms of vaccination in particular, will put us in a strong position and we know we are coming close let’s say to the autumn time, starting to think about the resumption of winter activities, and obviously things like college and school,” he said.

“These are all in on our mind in terms of advice we are going to need to provide around the safe and effective resumption.

“So we are looking at essentially what are the kinds of criteria that need to be satisfied to enable us to advise when we think it is appropriate and safe to do so, to step back some of those arrangements.

"So it is more about achieving those criteria rather than a specific time period or a date.

“But if we keep the progress going that we are making, in terms of vaccination, that day may not be far away.”

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