highly infectious | 

Revealed: the counties where Omicron variant are now taking hold

Variant now accounts for two-thirds of Covid casesWHO says ‘unwise’ to assume Omicron is mild variantHigh levels of infection among 16 to 34-year-olds
Tedros Adhanom of the World Health Organisation said 'an event cancelled is better than a life cancelled'. Photo: Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP

Tedros Adhanom of the World Health Organisation said 'an event cancelled is better than a life cancelled'. Photo: Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP

Eilish O'Regan

Dublin is now an Omicron variant hotspot. The highly infectious form of Covid-19 has tightened its grip across the country and now accounts for two-thirds of confirmed cases of the virus.

The 14-day incidence of Covid-19 in the capital is the highest in the country at 1,686 per 100,000 – much of it fuelled by Omicron.

It is followed by Louth, Westmeath, Carlow and Kilkenny.

With just days to Christmas, the extent of the new variant’s spread is revealed in new data showing confirmed cases of Omicron have been detected in Waterford, Longford, ­Galway, Limerick, Offaly and Kildare.

It has also been found in Kilkenny, Portlaoise, Carlow, Tipperary, Laois and Meath through sequencing of virus samples.

It comes as the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned that holiday festivities would, in many places, lead to “increased cases, overwhelmed health systems and more deaths”.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “An event cancelled is better than a life cancelled.”

The WHO’s chief scientist, Soumya Swaminathan, said it would be “unwise” to conclude from early evidence that Omicron was a mild variant. She said that as numbers rose, all ­systems would be under strain.

Ireland’s chief medical officer, Dr Tony Holohan, urged people: “This week, only try and meet those with whom you will spend Christmas Day.”

In advance of large festive get-togethers, he revealed public health doctors were reporting a higher level of infection among household contacts due to Omicron infection.

“If there is one positive test, whether from a PCR or antigen test, within a group such as a household then there is a significant chance others are already infected, even if not yet testing positive,” he said.

“If one person from a household tests positive prior to an event or gathering, then none should attend.”

The figures have triggered particular concern about the high levels of infection among 16 to 34-year-olds, all of whom are eligible for a Covid-19 vaccine. Around one in four of these young people being tested are getting a ­positive result.

However, one in six young adults have yet to avail of a first dose of vaccine.

Another 5,279 new cases of Covid-19 were reported yesterday. There were 443 Covid-19 patients in hospital, a fall of 24 from Monday, with 102 in intensive care, down two.

Hospitals fear there will be a January surge not just in Covid-19 patients, but also in flu cases.

Figures released to Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín show how targets to increase critical care beds have not been met.

The HSE’s target was to deliver an additional 66 critical care beds by December 31 next, bringing the total to 321.

But there are currently only 42 of the planned 66 extra beds open, bringing the total available to the sickest patients to 297, leaving hospitals to scale up more temporary beds in preparation for a surge.

The wait time for booster jabs for people who have had Covid since their first vaccination round has now been cut from six months to three. More than 1.55 million booster shots and additional doses have now been administered, with 342,000 vaccines given out last week.

Waiting times at walk-in centres varied again yesterday. Some had no queue, while the wait at the National Show Centre in Dublin, for example, reached 50 minutes at times.

Meanwhile, the early December meeting of the National Public Health Emergency (Nphet) was told bars and restaurants were reportedly “packing them in” as up to 70pc of events were cancelled.

Members spoke of needing to move the focus of enforcement by inspectors from collection of contact tracing details to a focus on capacity.

A discussion on the mandatory vaccination of healthcare staff was postponed, with concerns it could affect the social solidarity behind the high rate of vaccination here so far.

The meeting was told only half of close contacts who got a positive antigen test result found it was later confirmed when they subsequently got a PCR test.

Separately, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said the Government had given the go-ahead for the development of three waiting-list-only hospitals in Galway, Cork and Dublin providing coverage for 60-70pc of the population.

No timeline or location for the new hospitals has been given and their development will be progressed in line with public spending code requir ements.

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