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*Photograph: Gary Collins

Clare has recorded eight new cases of COVID-19 and an appeal has been issued to parents to avoid congregating at school gates over the coming weeks.

An additional eight cases of the virus have been diagnosed in Clare, the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) stated on Friday evening.

With a figure of 156.5, Clare’s 14 day incidence rate per 100k of the population is the eighth lowest in the country.

A total of 776 new cases are known across the country. 278 in Dublin, 69 in Galway, 57 in Meath, 52 in Kildare, 48 in Donegal and the remaining 272 cases are spread across all other counties.

Notification has been issued of 29 additional deaths related to COVID-19. 17 of these deaths occurred in February, and 12 occurred in January. The median age of those who died was 77 years and the age range was 29 – 95 years. There has been a total of 4,300 COVID-19 related deaths in Ireland.

Hospital numbers continue to fall, NPHET have confirmed. As of 8am today, 574 COVID-19 patients are hospitalised, of which 136 are in ICU. 24 additional hospitalisations occurred in the past 24 hours.

There have been 373,280 doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered in Ireland as of Tuesday. 238,841 people have received their first dose and 134,439 people have received their second dose.

In a letter to parents and guardians, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer commended their adherence to public health guidelines in the past two months which has resulted in the phased reopening of primary and post-primary schools and the wider provision of childcare. “The importance of schools for the overall health and wellbeing of children cannot be overstated, and the risk of COVID-19 has been carefully weighed against the very real harm that can be caused by sustained school closures”.

A safe return to schools for students, their families and school staff is the priority, Dr Ronan Glynn stated. “In making this recommendation, the NPHET’s most significant concern is that it will be taken as a signal by parents and wider society that other forms of household mixing, and mobility are now acceptable. We cannot afford for this to happen at this time”.

“Please avoid congregating at school gates over the coming weeks. Please do not have play dates or organise after school activities which involve household mixing. And please continue to work from home unless essential. It is only through your continued buy-in to these measures that we can ensure that our children will get back to school and then stay back in school. I know these are difficult requests. We all – adults and children alike – want to meet up with our friends and neighbours and get back to our old routines. And we will get there. We now have three very effective vaccines with, hopefully, three more on the way. Over the coming weeks, older people, and those at high or very high risk of severe disease will be vaccinated and we will see substantial increases in supply from April onwards,” he added.

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