A number of key indicators relating to the spread of Covid-19 have declined in recent days, latest data shows.
The proportion of people testing positive, along with the number of close contacts per person – important indicators of the rate of transmission of the disease in the community – have fallen.
The number of patients in hospital with the disease on Sunday is 295, down from 312 on Saturday and 324 on Wednesday. There are currently 38 Covid-19 patients in intensive care, up one on Saturday’s total.
HSE chief executive Paul Reid on Sunday morning noted the eight-day fall in the positivity rate for tests, which on Saturday stood at 6.2 per cent for the previous seven days.
Mr Reid also noted a fall in the number of close contacts, down from 4½ per confrimed case to three.
“Most close contacts are household. Still very early but good. We’re all be part of the solution. Let’s keep this going,” he said on Twitter.
More than 1,000 new cases a day of the disease have been recorded on 10 days this month, but numbers have fallen below this level over the past two days.
The rate of community transmission has remained constant, at 28 per cent, since the start of the month.
Officials caution against reading too much into single-day figures but the improvements seen across a range of indicators points to some stabilisation of the situation.
Across Europe, the number of new cases, while still near record levels, has fallen in recent days.
In Ireland, Cavan remains the worst-affected county, with a 14-day incidence of 981.9 per 100,000 people, followed by Meath, which has an incidence of 652.7.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told RTÉ’s This Week that the Government is “increasingly optimistic” that it will be possible to start vaccinating those most at risk from Covid-19 “in the first half if not first quarter of next year”.
Meanwhile, Mr Reid said a “vast majority” of the almost 2,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases who were asked to do their own contact tracing last weekend had only reported having household contacts.
The HSE’s contract tracing system collapsed last week due to a sudden surge in cases and a lack of staff to deal with them. As a result, thousands of people who had tested positive for the virus were asked to ring their own contacts in order to prevent a backlog of contact tracing calls.
Mr Reid said the agency had been reaching out to positive cases over the past week to see how the completion of their contact tracing calls went.
“Specifically relating to those 2,000 people over the last weekend, we have started to call them this weekend, throughout yesterday and through today just to assess how they’ve got on in making their contacts last week,” Mr Reid told Newstalk’s On The Record.
“One positive take out of it is what the feedback we’re getting is. The vast majority of their contacts were household so we would immediately expect if somebody has been a positive case, that household contacts would have restricted themselves immediately.”
‘Shouldn’t have happened’
Mr Reid acknowledged that what happened last week “shouldn’t have happened to the extent that it happened”.
“It was one of those overwhelming weekend were 3,500 calls had to be made. To put it into context, we went from 8,000 calls per week to 28,000 calls per week in a very short period of time and that definitely culminated last weekend,” he said.
“In essence what caught up last weekend was an absolute uncontrolled levels in the community.”
He added: “What we are seeing is calls taking significantly longer, probably double the time they were taking at the start of this, more volume of calls [SIC]and more complex calls that we’re having to make as well.”
Mr Reid added that he regrets what happened last weekend, adding that the HSE “fixed it”.
“What we did during the summer was four things. Firstly build up the number of community testing centres and recruited workers to do that, secondly improved the logistics of the transfer of those swabs to more efficient testing, thirdly built up our lab capacity to now over 120,000 and we building more over the coming weeks and finally the recruitment of tracers,” he said.
Asked about the issue of ViraPro handsanitisers, which have been recalled due to the presence of methanol in the product, Mr Reid said it was “obviously” a concern.
He said they are in the process of recalling one million hand sanitisers.
“We are putting the recall notice out to the whole health system just in case they locally procurred any ViraPro products.”
Siptu, the State’s largest trade union, said it was “shocking” that staff and patients in healthcare facilities had been using an unsafe hand sanitiser.
It said it wanted “immediate engagement with the HSE in order to obtain an explanation about the circumstances” which led to the procurement and use of the product.
“Our members across the country are very concerned at this shocking development. HSE and other health facilities are risky and dangerous enough for staff and patients coping with Covid-19 without there being health risks associated with the use of a hand sanitising product,” Siptu deputy general secretary John King said.
“It is particularly disturbing given the importance placed by public health authorities on effective and regular hand washing as an essential measure in helping to prevent the spread of the virus.”