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    Covid rates in nursing homes hit record low as vaccine impact starts to show

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    Covid-19 testing in nursing homes has hit its lowest level since the start of the pandemic, with the vaccine impact beginning to show.

    The seven-day positivity rate from community testing has also dropped below three per cent for the first time this year, with cases either stalling or falling despite an increase in the number of tests being carried out.

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    The news comes as Ireland passed the one million mark for vaccines doses administered on Thursday.

    HSE chief executive Paul Reid said the vaccine rollout had been rightly scrutinised, and acknowledged that there had been “breaches of trust”.

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    But he said the health board was now looking forward with “great confidence”, thanks to the impact of the vaccines in hospitals and beyond.

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    He said: “The lowest level that we have ever experienced of our serial testing for Covid in nursing homes was last week at 0.07.

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    “We’re seeing reduced levels of mortality, reduced levels of sickness and reduced levels of hospitalisations, particularly for those who are most vulnerable.

    “We’re seeing radically reduced infections taking place in healthcare settings, which is very important for us and the public.

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    “We’ve seen a huge decline in the percentage of healthcare workers as a percentage of the daily or weekly positive cases.

    “We’ve seen a rapid decline in healthcare workers out of work, by being either a positive case, or close contact of a positive case.

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    “Now, as we move into the most medically vulnerable, we do expect to see many of the benefits there also.”

    The number of people in hospitals with the virus was continuing to fall.

    As of Thursday morning, there were 226 patients in hospital and 54 in intensive care units.

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    Paul Reid urged people to take a “step back” from criticism of the vaccine rollout, noting that it was designed and implemented when the pandemic was at its very height in December and January.

    He said the programme had to be readjusted more than 20 times because of problems with deliveries from the vaccine manufacturers.

    Despite this, he said, in recent weeks, between 95 per cent and 98 per cent of vaccines were administered as they become available each week.

    There were now 11,500 vaccinators trained on the HSE system across the country, Mr Reid said.

    Of that figure, some 5,500 were internal HSE staff who would be redeployed to vaccination centres.

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    Taoiseach Micheal Martin praised the rollout on Thursday as the one million vaccine mark was passed, saying: “Brighter days are coming.”

    He tweeted: “Over the coming weeks, our vaccine rollout will ramp up even further, thanks to the efforts of healthcare staff and volunteers across the country.”

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