Number of Covid-19 outbreaks increases for the first time since March

The number of Covid-19 outbreaks increased last week, for the first time since March.

A total of 47 outbreaks of the virus were reported last week, compared to 42 the previous week. In this wave of the pandemic, the number of outbreaks peaked at 195 in the last week of March.

There were seven hospital outbreaks last week, all in the east or west of the country, up from four a week earlier, according to the Center for Health Protection Surveillance. Outbreaks were generally small, with no more than seven cases involved.

Outbreaks in nursing homes were reduced by four and outbreaks in residential institutions by two.

A total of 211 people with Covid-19 have died in nursing homes, community hospitals and long-stay units in the current wave of the pandemic, since Christmas, according to the HPSC. They were aged between 52 and 101 years.

The number of cases continues to decline, according to a separate HPSC report. There were 6,371 new cases of Covid-19 confirmed by PCR test last week, down 26.7 percent from the previous week. In addition, 8,063 HSE-positive antigen tests were reported, a 19.7 percent reduction. These figures may be underestimates due to failure to detect or report infections.

The incidence fell in all age groups and in all counties.

Fourteen Covid-19-related deaths were reported last week, with an average age of 78. The total death toll for April was 167, though more may still be reported.

Meanwhile, a second case of the XE recombinant variant has been detected by genomic sequencing.

XE, a combination of the BA.1 and BA.2 sublineages of the Omicron variant, is thought to be 10 percent more transmissible than Omicron.

One case of Omicron XE was identified from one case that occurred in early February, and a second has now been detected dating to early April.

There may be more cases in the community, as only a small proportion of cases are genomically sequenced. More than 1,300 cases of XE have been detected in the UK, including a small number in Northern Ireland.

Two other Omicron sub-lineages, BA.4 and BA.5, have recently drawn attention after being linked to a surge in cases in South Africa, but the National Virus Reference Laboratory says it has not yet detected them in Ireland.

The concern about these new mutations is that they could cause more people to become infected again.

Covid-19 continues to be detected in wastewater sampling carried out throughout the country. Last week, the virus was detected in 63 of 68 samples taken from sewage catchment areas. Viral load was falling in 27 areas and rising in six.

There were 310 Covid-19 patients in the hospital on Friday morning, up from 336 the day before.

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