There are early signs of hope in the struggle to contain the pandemic, Ireland’s chief medical officer said.
The relentless rise in the daily number of coronavirus cases and the positivity rate of testing has slackened.
An additional 63 deaths with Covid-19 were recorded on Wednesday.
Another 3,569 cases were confirmed, the Department of Health said.
Dr Tony Holohan said: “We are seeing some early signs of progress with daily case numbers and positivity rates.
“We can take some hope in them, but we have a long, long way to go.
“In the coming weeks ahead, we will need to draw upon our reserves of resilience from springtime as we can expect to see hospitalisations, admissions to ICU and mortality related to Covid-19 increase day on day.”
Ireland is aiming to vaccinate 700,000 people by the end of March, the Health Minister said.
A quick update on our vaccination plan. By the end of March, we aim to have vaccinated 700,000 people, including nursing home residents and staff, as well as frontline healthcare workers and people aged 70+.— Stephen Donnelly (@DonnellyStephen) January 11, 2021
Stephen Donnelly said that another 1.5 million people will be vaccinated in the second quarter of the year, and more than that figure in quarter three.
The projected figure is based on orders of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and an estimated allocation from AstraZeneca, which is yet to be approved by the EU.
If the projection proves accurate, it would see 2.2 million people vaccinated by the end of June.
Minister Donnelly told the Dail: “We’re planning on receiving enough vaccines to be able to vaccinate 700,000 people by the end of March.
“Critically this would vaccinate the top three groups on the prioritisation list.
“That’s those in long-term residential care, staff and residents, frontline healthcare workers and our population of people over 70 years of age.
“We’re further planning to be able to vaccinate more than 1.5 million people in quarter two and more than that again in quarter three.
“At these levels, people most at risk of Covid-19 will be fully vaccinated by the summer.”
The UK variant, which is far more contagious than anything we have dealt with so far, now accounts for in excess of half of all new casesHealth Minister Stephen Donnelly
Minster Donnelly said the numbers given were “highly provisional” and to be treated as a forecast, as they are dependent on further vaccines being approved and delivered on time.
The announcement came as the Minister revealed that the highly transmissible UK variant of Covid-19 now accounts for over half of new cases in Ireland.
He told the Dail: “I’d like to reiterate just how serious the situation is right now.
“The UK variant, which is far more contagious than anything we have dealt with so far, now accounts for in excess of half of all new cases.
“The way we support our healthcare workers, the way we keep each other safe right now is to follow the public health guidelines and to stay at home.”
The widespread transmission of coronavirus in the community is continuing to put health services under severe pressure.
Health workers who were close contacts of coronavirus cases are being called back to work before they finish isolating for 14 days, it has emerged.
HSE chief operations officer Anne O’Connor confirmed that asymptomatic close contacts are being brought back to work “as a last resort”.
#COVID19 cases in Ireland are still very high. It is important that we act like we have the virus by staying at home in order to prevent further spread. For families, for friends and for the frontline #StayHome #StaySafe https://t.co/7GZdJOwl2e pic.twitter.com/E3PDsi5cIr— HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) (@hpscireland) January 13, 2021
The health system is under sustained pressure with the number of people in intensive care now higher than it was during the peak of the first wave.
Ms O’Connor said health officials made the decision because of the shortage of healthcare workers.
She said staff who were close contacts are being tested before they return to work and are being closely monitored.
The head of the HSE, Paul Reid, tweeted: “Our hospitals are treating 1,750 people with Covid-19 and 158 critically ill in ICU.
“This is a level beyond comprehension.
“But to assure everyone, our healthcare teams are taking emergency actions to sustain this within a level of control.
“We appreciate your support.”
The number of patients with coronavirus in intensive care jumped to 160 after the figures were updated following Mr Reid’s tweet on Wednesday morning.