I am sharing time with the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte.
I welcome the opportunity to discuss with colleagues in Dáil Éireann this morning the progress of the vaccine programme. Covid-19 has presented Ireland and countries around the world with our biggest public health challenge in living memory. In recent months, more transmissible variants have driven up infections, and governments right across Europe are extending restrictions. As we are all aware, daily numbers of new cases in Ireland remain stubbornly high. Last Sunday, 769 new cases were reported in the country.
It must feel to many like this pandemic will never end. Many people are understandably frustrated at what can seem like a largely unchanging landscape. Pandemics end, however, and this pandemic will end too. Its end is firmly in sight thanks to the remarkable triumph of science and medicine, which have produced hugely effective vaccines very quickly.
Our biggest weapon against Covid-19 is our vaccination programme. More than 700,000 vaccines have now been administered. People right across Ireland, from Achill Island to Mizen Head, from Tory Island to Cape Clear Island, have been vaccinated. Many more will be vaccinated today.
The stories from GP clinics around the country have been uplifting. Dr. Mait Ó Faoláin described how the GP-led vaccination clinic at The Helix in Dublin vaccinated more people in one day than there were Covid-19 cases nationally over the previous week. I heard another GP describe the sense of collective mission and history being made. I believe he spoke for many when he expressed the deep satisfaction felt by so many directly involved at finally taking the fight to Covid-19 after what he described as a year of defensive skirmishes. That GP, Dr. Stephen Murphy, described what we are now witnessing as a kind of D-Day for GPs. These personal stories are filled with hope. There will be more of these stories in the coming weeks and months as our supply of vaccines increases.
We are using three highly effective vaccines and expect to have received in excess of 1 million doses by the end of March in just six days’ time. Next month, we are due to begin to receive deliveries of a fourth vaccine, made by Janssen. More than one in eight adults has now received a vaccine in Ireland. We now have clear and strong evidence that the vaccines are having a big effect in keeping people safe from the effects of Covid-19. This is hugely encouraging.
Our nursing homes were among the most vulnerable settings for this virus. Nursing home residents and staff were the first to be vaccinated in Ireland. Serial testing for Covid-19 in nursing homes is now showing a positivity rate of less than 0.2%. In late January, 11% of Covid-19 cases were detected in nursing home outbreaks. By mid-March, that had fallen from 11% to less than 1%. That is a big drop and it is bringing comfort and relief to nursing home residents, their families and, of course, everyone working throughout the country in the nursing home and long-term residential care sectors. Now, in-person visits to nursing homes are restarting. Many families will be wondering when they can hug a loved one in a nursing home or hold their loves one’s hand without worrying about putting them at risk. By reducing transmission in the community and ensuring widespread vaccination, that will become a reality again.
Good progress is also being made vaccinating older people. We are moving through the age cohorts. The first group was those aged 85 and older. We then moved on to those aged 80 to 84 and have now started vaccinating those aged 75 and older. Here again, the results are really positive. The number of cases of Covid-19 among those aged 85 and older has fallen by nearly a half over the past two weeks alone. Our Covid-19 vaccination programme is also having a spectacular impact on hospitalisations of older people. In January, 11% of people hospitalised with Covid-19 were residents in long-term residential care. That has now fallen from 11% to just half of 1%. Given this really encouraging data, it is no surprise that public support for vaccines in Ireland is very high.
In April, we are due to receive approximately a million vaccine doses. That will be approximately the same amount received up to the end of this month. In May, and then again in June, we are also due to receive around a million vaccines a month. As always, this is dependent on the pharmaceutical companies delivering to the agreed amounts. If they do, then four in every five adults can be offered either one or two vaccine doses by the end of June.
I want to finish by addressing the current situation with Covid-19 cases, something we are all watching very closely. It must be said that huge progress has been made since January. Ireland now has one of the lowest rates of Covid-19 cases in Europe. As we all know, cases are still high and have been rising in recent days. We are seeing a big fall in cases associated with the vaccinated cohorts. That big fall, unfortunately, is being offset by an increase in cases associated with increased mobility and increased interactions. I thank colleagues right across the Dáil for their ongoing efforts in engaging with people in their communities and nationally by encouraging them to stick with the public health measures.
While vaccines will facilitate our exit from these tough public health measures as more of the population is vaccinated, we are now also making other interventions. Enhanced measures are being introduced today at specific locations to help monitor and suppress the spread of Covid-19 in areas that are showing case levels which are persistently high. Measures include deployment of HSE mobile units with walk-in testing, that is, self-referral for testing, Community Call supports, and engagement with local communities by our public health teams. We are using antigen or rapid testing in the healthcare and meat processing sectors, and pilot projects will soon be launched to examine opportunities for rapid testing in other sectors as well.
We are introducing mandatory hotel quarantine for people travelling from what are regarded as high-risk zones. We are the first country in the European Union to introduce such a comprehensive system, and it builds on extensive measures already in place.
These include fines and-or prosecution for non-essential travel, pre-flight PCR test requirements, mandatory home quarantine and genome sequencing of positive tests from category two countries. Work is ongoing around a new campaign, delivered in co-operation with employers and trade unions, on compliance with the work safely protocol.
This will be the largest vaccination programme in the history of the State. Huge progress has been made in a short time. The vaccination programme is less than three months in operation and we are vaccinating people as quickly as possible. I thank all of those involved for their hard work which has brought us to this point which will, in time, result in the full resumption of our normal lives.