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3,955 cases, 28 additional deaths



Today, the Department of Health has been notified of 3,955 new cases of Covid-19 and 28 additional deaths.

This brings the country’s overall case numbers to 163,057, while the death toll has now reached 2,488.

As of 2pm today, there were 1,789 patients in hospital with the virus, 169 of whom were being treated in Intensive Care Units.

The country’s national 14-day incidence rate is now 1,497 cases per 100,000.

Of today’s cases, 1,826 were men, 2,115 were women and 54 per cent were under the age of 45.

There were 1,210 new cases reported in Dublin, 456 in Cork, 235 in Louth, 221 in Meath and 218 in Limerick. The remaining 1,615 cases were recorded in all other counties.

Speaking at this evening’s Covid-19 press briefing, chair of the Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, Professor Philip Nolan said the incidence rate of the virus is now 20 times greater than it was in December.

“From an epidemiological perspective, what we are seeing in this wave is different to what we have seen since springtime, and perhaps worse.

“The penetration of the virus throughout all ages of the population is a particular cause for serious concern, as is risk of severe disease that all of these people face. Poor health outcomes, risk of serious or long-term illness and hospitalisation remain a risk for us all when it comes to Covid-19.

“That is why we must follow public health advice and protect not only ourselves but our hospital system and healthcare workers by staying at home.”

This comes after the HSE confirmed 77,303 people in the Republic have now received their first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine after the roll-out began on December 29th.

The HSE is currently considering whether people who have previously had Covid-19 should be vaccinated, as the HSE’s chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said they may have their own immunity to the virus.

A re-evaluation of the vaccination priority list is set to take place following the third wave of the virus, while 4,000 people have been trained to give the vaccine.

Work is also said to be ongoing to finalise locations of mass vaccinations sites which will be used to administer doses to the wider population when healthcare staff and residents in long term residential facilities have received their doses.

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Man released without charge after seizure of gun and cannabis worth €2,000



A man has been released without charge in Cork, after the seizure of a suspected gun and €2,000 worth of cannabis.

The discovery was made yesterday at around 5pm after the search of a home in the Cloyne area.

A man in his 30s was arrested at the scene and taken to Middleton Garda Station.

He has since been released without charge and a file is being prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions.

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Children may not return to school until close to Easter



Most children will not be back in school next month and may not return to the classroom until close to Easter, according to Government sources.

The Government’s Cabinet committee on Covid-19 is due to receive fresh guidance over the reopening schools from public health experts ahead of a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

As the Irish Times reports, while a full return to school is unlikely until mid to late March, sources say there remains a determination to reopen special education as a priority in February if virus transmission rates continue to fall.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said at the weekend that he believed schools will most likely reopen in a phased way, but not all students would be back at school by St Patrick’s Day.

Meanwhile, talks over contingency plans for the Leaving Cert are to intensify this week amid growing expectation that a formal decision on the future of the exams will be made shortly.

The Department of Education is due to meet with secondary education partners to discuss “further possible options” for the exams.

Leaving Cert

A spokesman for the Minister declined to comment on when a decision over the future of the Leaving Cert will be made beyond stating that the situation was “fluid”.

The Government is coming under pressure from opposition parties to clarify its plans for the Leaving Cert.

Labour Party leader Alan Kelly TD said he expects the exams will now be cancelled and has called for a decision to be made by February 1st.

Up until recently, Minister for Education Norma Foley said it was the Government’s firm intention to press ahead with a “traditional” Leaving Cert.

However, the continued closure of schools means this will be challenging given looming deadlines for oral and practical exams and concern over inequality of access to education.

Last year, the written Leaving Cert exams in June were cancelled and replaced by a system of calculated grades, which involved teachers assessing their own students.

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More transparency needed around frontline workers yet to be vaccinated, says IMO



Consultant Matthew Sadlier of the Irish Medical Organisation has called for greater transparency about who has had the Covid-19 vaccine and how many frontline workers have yet to be vaccinated.

Speaking on RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland, Dr Sadlier said the issue was about trying to protect patients, vaccinating frontline workers would mean that hospitals could stay open.

At present there were 6,000 frontline workers off work because of Covid issues and it was not acceptable that there was not a plan for frontline workers to be vaccinated as soon as possible, he said.

With 2,000 Covid patients in hospitals at present, every ward was a Covid ward, he said. The concept that some wards were not Covid wards was not accurate as everyone was at risk.

Definitive list

There should be a “definitive list” for every hospital for vaccinations for frontline staff, he said. Dr Sadlier said he had some sympathy for the HSE because it was obvious there was a shortfall.

Protecting staff was important as it meant protecting patients so there needed to be transparency about where the vaccine would be going now. “Who is left to be vaccinated and how they are going to manage it going forward.”

When asked about the vaccination programme in the UK where the date for the second vaccine has been postponed for up to 12 weeks, Dr Sadlier said he thought it would be “a very high risk thing to do.”

On the issue of PPE, he said high grade masks needed to be guaranteed and available to all staff – not after risk assessment as was the situation at present. “All staff are at high risk.”

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