I welcome this opportunity to update the House on Ireland's ongoing response to Covid-19. I start by expressing my deepest sympathies to the family and friends of all those who have lost their lives to Covid-19 in Ireland. It is a loss made harder for many by the limits Covid-19 has put on our lives, with families looking through windows of nursing homes to try to communicate with their loved ones and lifelong friends unable to walk to the graveside to bid farewell.
It has been such a difficult year for so many people in so many ways: for those who have lost their jobs or businesses they spent their entire lives building up, for those most vulnerable to the virus who had to shut themselves off from their families, friends and communities for very long periods, and for those who have lived in fear since this virus arrived on our shores.
Chapter 1 of Covid was flattening the curve. That meant accepting severe restrictions on our civil liberties and economic freedoms to stop transmission of the virus. Thanks to the sacrifices and solidarity of everyone in the country, it worked. As Minister for Health, I acknowledge the extraordinary work of the women and men across our health service and all they have done to date in response to the virus.
We do not want to go there again. Chapter 2 of Ireland dealing with Covid, which we are starting now, is about suppressing the virus to keep our society and our economy open, to protect our civil liberties and our economic freedoms, and to protect the ability of people to go about living their lives.
We have learned much about this virus since it came here in March. We can find the virus much more quickly, thanks to our testing and tracing capability, including the Covid Tracker app. We can send in local public health teams more quickly and help people isolate more quickly and better. We know more about the kinds of interactions that are spreading the virus. These are the types of interactions that the National Public Health Emergency Team, NPHET, targets when it recommends new measures. What happened in counties Kildare, Laois and Offaly demonstrated that local measures, applied quickly, targeting the ways in which we know the virus spreads and supported by local communities, can work, and thanks to the people in those counties can work very fast.
A new roadmap for chapter 2 will be published on Tuesday. It will apply what we have learned about the virus to help us find the virus quickly, suppress it quickly, and address our priorities of people's health, people's lives, keeping schools and colleges open, resuming our healthcare systems as much as possible, and protecting jobs.
This month marked a major achievement in Ireland as the schools returned. At the same time, we are seeing a high level of compliance with the public health measures. For example, new research shows a 90% compliance with face coverings. Younger people, whom I believe have been very unfairly criticised by some and whom I think are doing an incredible job, show the highest level of compliance at 97%. I applaud their ongoing efforts. If we are to continue with this type of success, people need to be confident in the public health measures; they need to be confident in the recommendations coming from the public health experts; they need to be confident in the measures in the roadmap; and they need to be confident in the measures in place now and which are working now.
I thank the many Deputies for their support of our public health experts and their recommendations. Some weeks ago, I spoke to officials in the World Health Organization, WHO. We were talking about Ireland's response, what we could do better, what we should do more of and what we might change. They said one area in which Ireland stood out was political solidarity. They observed that in some countries Covid was being used as a political football and political systems were tearing themselves apart. They said that Ireland was not unique, but was rare given its level of political solidarity. A message had gone out from our Parliament saying that we back a public-health-led and evidence-based approach. While there will always be differences, politicians were clearly seen to be working together. The WHO view was that this matters a great deal to public confidence.
I fully accept that leadership from Government matters. We must always strive to do what we can. We must always be open to fair criticisms. Leadership from the Oireachtas matters. While I applaud the work of many Deputies, we are not doing as well as we were. The WHO might score us a little less. Earlier in a debate on public health measures, some Deputies decried measures they know are saving lives. I heard some Deputies stand up and say they could not possibly understand why one measure is in place but another is not, while knowing very well why those measures are in place because they had been provided with the public health advice. I ask colleagues to reflect. We are not looking for free passes; there should be no free passes. The more solidarity we can show, the more confidence there will be in the public health measures, the more lives will be saved, the more jobs will be saved and the more people can live their lives, which I know is what we all want.
I wish to move on to the current Covid situation. Around the world the WHO has reported 27 million cases and almost 900,000 deaths. Yesterday Ireland passed 30,000 cases and, tragically, we have now recorded 1,778 deaths from Covid-19.
In the past two weeks, for every 100,000 people living in Ireland, we have had 35 new cases. In early July, it was just three cases per 100,000 population, representing more than a tenfold increase. While we are not at the levels that we saw back in April and May of this year, we are on an upward trajectory and it is a cause for concern. It is important to point out that the national measures introduced recently are working. The first slowed the upward trajectory and then began to stabilise it.
I acknowledge that they are having a big stabilising effect and that the efforts and sacrifices being made across the country are having their intended effect. This rise is being seen across the EU. Most other member states have experienced an increase in the number of cases in recent weeks. Across the EU, the incidence rate is 55 cases per 100,000 people and 16 member states have a higher incidence rate now than they did two weeks ago, so the rate is rising. In the past fortnight, we in Ireland have been notified of 1,900 new cases and, tragically, one death, which was reported yesterday. The number of cases newly notified to us has been increasing over the past several weeks. The five-day average, which we look at very closely, is now 175 cases per day.
In the past two weeks, more than 50% of new cases identified have been close contacts of a confirmed case. Just under 40% of cases in the last two weeks have been linked with clusters. There were 145 additional new clusters notified in the past week to Saturday, 5 September. There has been an increase in the number of clusters identified around the country with smaller numbers of cases associated, such as those in private households. Some 70% of cases identified in the past two weeks have been in the cohort under 45 years of age. At the moment, there are 50 people with confirmed cases of Covid-19 in hospital, six of whom are in critical care. Our thoughts are very much with them and their families. The current levels are now much lower than the levels we saw earlier this year, for which we should be thankful. It is our hope to keep those numbers low and this is what the measures which have been introduced seek to do.
The National Public Health Emergency Team will meet on Thursday when it will review the current restrictions based on the most up-to-date epidemiological position and will advise Government accordingly.
In the past week, nearly 72,000 tests have been completed. Serial testing continues in nursing homes, direct provision centres and meat processing plants. Significant additional staff have been added in the past four weeks and the HSE is currently transitioning from seconded staff to a full-time staffing model.
The vast majority of Irish people are united in our fight against this virus. I know the House will join me in thanking every person and every sector for their hard work. There is no question but that it can be tiring to continue to live with the impacts of Covid-19. We have been dealing with it for quite some time and will be dealing it with for quite some time to come. Unfortunately, the virus does not get tired. We need to hold firm. The core advice from our public health doctors remains the same: wash your hands, follow coughing and sneezing etiquette, obey social distancing guidelines and reduce discretionary social interactions. Any and all public health measures introduced are intended to save lives and to prevent more people from getting seriously ill. By continuing to suppress community transmission, we will be able to continue reopening vital parts of our economy and society. The Government's new roadmap will inform our decisions and will be a key source of information for every person in Ireland as we continue to navigate life during this pandemic.