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This is the boring bit of the pandemic, as we lurch towards the finish line

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The novelty has long worn off, the existential fear has faded, and yet the finishing line seems far away; this really is the boring bit of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mass vaccination was supposed to be the ultimate solution to the crisis, but it seems to be struggling to do the job on its own.

Covid-19 vaccines were never going to provide complete protection for everyone. But against the Delta variant, they are straining to provide the expected high-enough wall of immunity.

This mean achieving protection through herd immunity looks like an unreachable goal, while the notion of “zero Covid” through the complete elimination of the virus appears unsustainable.

Vaccines still do a pretty good job of preventing serious illness, but their reduced effectiveness against the dominant Delta variant means achieving population immunity is “mythical”, in the words of one UK scientist this week.

We knew no vaccine would be 100 per cent protective and that some people would get infected with Covid-19 despite being fully immunised. The rise in case numbers that we have seen was forecast.

Partly, it is because there are still plenty of unvaccinated people out there. Ireland’s vaccination statistics are impressive, with about 80 per cent of adults fully vaccinated and 90 per cent at least partly dosed.

Others will have some degree of immunity due to recent infection, but that still leaves large numbers at risk of infection by a variant which is much more contagious than previous strains.

Early days

The other factor is lower-than-expected vaccine performance. It is early days in terms of assessing their effectiveness against the Delta variant, but one survey in the UK found fully vaccinated people had only a 50 to 60 per cent reduced risk of infection once asymptomatic carriers were taken into account.

In the US, researchers found the effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine had fallen to just 42 per cent against the variant, with Moderna performing better with an effectiveness of 76 per cent.

Latest reports from Israel suggest Pfizer’s vaccine is just 39 per cent effective against infection, down from 64 per cent weeks earlier as Delta became dominant. The vaccine was 88 per cent effective against hospitalisation.

More positive UK research points to the Pfizer vaccine being 88 per cent effectiveness against variant-driven disease.

Cases tell us less than they ever did, now they are occurring mostly among younger people. As the State’s deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn reminded us during the week: “When we see cases in vaccinated people, we need to remember what we are not seeing. What we don’t see is the very many more infections, hospitalisations and deaths that have been prevented by vaccination.”

Dr Glynn cited an 80 per cent effectiveness figure for vaccines against disease and 95 per cent against hospitalisation. He said the protection against severe disease was holding up in the context of the variant but made no equivalent claim in relation to getting infected by the variant.

Viral loads

Vaccinated people can transmit the disease to others. If infected with the variant, they appear to have the same levels of virus in their nose as unvaccinated people, though viral loads seem to fall more quickly. They are less likely to pass on the virus because they are less likely to get it in the first place, but some onward transmission will happen.

As more people get vaccinated, the proportion of cases involving vaccinated people grows. But only six out of 169 adults in ICU since April were fully vaccinated. Seven out of 155 deaths in this period involved fully vaccinated people.

The overall situation is confusing and still evolving. Denmark is getting rid of masks; Israel is re-introducing them.

It points to a future where Covid-19 is an ever-present threat, often flaring up in regions and sections of society with low vaccination levels.

We won’t be able to eradicate the virus in society but we can largely protect ourselves through vaccination.

At times, other measures may be needed to ensure hospitals don’t get overcrowded, or classrooms have to shut. That’s why there is renewed talk of mask requirements, and why visiting restrictions may be tightened.

“Vaccines are not perfectly effective: we will need to help them by taking simple hygiene measures to prevent infection,” National Public Health Emergency Team official Prof Philip Nolan observed this week.

With rising cases being matched by impressive vaccination figures, it is not yet clear whether extra measures will be needed in Ireland. Case numbers are forecast to peak within weeks, but this coincides with the return of schools and the onset of autumn and winter.

Another positive is that tweaked versions of the vaccines are likely to improve effectiveness against the Delta variant, meaning further restrictions may be largely avoided.


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Census 2022 – what difference does it make?

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Next Sunday, April 3rd, is Census night. Millions of people in homes countrywide will fill in page after page of questions, some of which are deeply personal and many of which might be unfamiliar.

But what it is it all about?

At a basic level, Census 2022 will be used to inform planning of public policy and services in the years ahead, according to the Central Statistics Office.

The questions will cover a range of environmental, employment and lifestyle issues, including the use of renewable energy sources in homes.

The questions will help inform policy development in the areas of energy and climate action, and the prevalence of internet access, to understand the availability of and need for internet connections and range of devices used to access the internet.

Questions also focus on changes in work patterns and will include the trend of working from home and childcare issues, while questions are also asked about the times individuals usually leave work, education or childcare, to help identify and plan for transport pattern needs locally and nationally.

Other topics covered include volunteering and the type of organisations volunteers choose to support, tobacco usage and the prevalence of smoke alarms in the home.

And of course there is a time capsule – the chance to write something which will be sealed for the next 100 years.

In this episode of In The News, the head of census administration Eileen Murphy and statistician Kevin Cunningham about what it all means for us.

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Oscars 2022: Will Smith makes Oscar history after slapping Chris Rock over joke about wife Jada Pinkett Smith | Culture

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Will Smith took the Oscar for Best Actor at last night’s 94th Academy Awards, but he also became the protagonist of the ceremony for other reasons. The night was following the script, until Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock on the stage after the latter made a joke about the shaved head of the former’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Rock had quipped that he was “looking forward to GI Jane 2,” in reference to her look. Pinkett Smith has revealed publicly that she has alopecia. It looked as if the moment had been planned, until Smith went back to his seat and shouted: “Get my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth.”

The moment, which immediately became Oscar history but for all the wrong reasons, left the attendees with frozen smiles, and asking themselves whether it was possible that a veteran such as Smith could have lost his cool in front of tens of millions of people. After taking the prize for Best Actor, the superstar actor made a tearful apology, saying that he hoped the Academy “will invite me back.” Later on, actor Anthony Hopkins called for “peace and love,” but it was already too late. The incident overshadowed the success of CODA, which took the Oscar for Best Picture. Just like the time when Warren Beatty mistakenly named La La Land as the big winner of the night, no one will speak about anything else from last night’s awards.

At first sight, Smith’s actions looked as if they were scripted. When he first heard Rock’s joke, he laughed. But his wife was seen on camera rolling her eyes, and it was then that the actor got up onto the stage and hit Rock. When he returned to his seat he raised his voice twice to shout “Get my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth,” sending a wave of unease and shock through the attending audience. The fact that he used the f-word, which is prohibited on US television, set alarm bells ringing that this was real and not a planned moment. In fact, the curse word was censored by the broadcaster, ABC, in the United States.

During a break, Smith’s PR manager approached him to speak. In the press room, which the actor skipped after collecting his prize, instructions were given to the journalists not to ask questions about the incident, Luis Pablo Beauregard reports. The next presenter, Sean “Diddy” Combs, tried to calm the situation. “Will and Chris, we’re going to solve this – but right now we’re moving on with love,” the rapper said.

When Smith took to the stage to collect his Best Actor award for his role as Richard Williams – the father of tennis stars Venus and Serena – in King Richard, he referred to the character as “a fierce defender of his family.” He continued: “I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people. I know to do what we do you’ve got to be able to take abuse, and have people talk crazy about you and have people disrespecting you and you’ve got to smile and pretend it’s OK.”

He explained that fellow actor Denzel Washington, who also spoke to Smith during a break, had told him: “At your highest moment, be careful, that’s when the devil comes for you.”

“I want to be a vessel for love,” Smith continued. “I want to be an ambassador of that kind of love and care and concern. I want to apologize to the Academy and all my fellow nominees. […] I look like the crazy father just like they said about Richard Williams, but love will make you do crazy things,” he said. He then joked about his mother, who had not wanted to come to the ceremony because she had a date with her crochet group.

The Los Angeles Police Department released a statement last night saying that Chris Rock would not be filing any charges for assault against Smith. “LAPD investigative entities are aware of an incident between two individuals during the Academy Awards program,” the statement read. “The incident involved one individual slapping another. The individual involved has declined to file a police report. If the involved party desires a police report at a later date, LAPD will be available to complete an investigative report.”

On December 28, Pinkett Smith spoke on social media about her problems with alopecia. She stated that she would be keeping her head shaved and would be dealing with the condition with humor. “Me and this alopecia are going to be friends… Period!” she wrote on Instagram.



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House-price inflation set to stay double digit for much of 2022

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House-price inflation is expected to remain at double-digit levels for much of 2022 as the mismatch between what is for sale and what buyers want continues.

Two new reports on the housing market paint a picture of a sector under strain due to a lack of supply and increased demand driven by Covid-related factors such as remote working.

The two quarterly reports, one each from rival property websites myhome.ie and daft.ie, suggest asking prices accelerated again in the first quarter of 2022 as the stock of homes available for sale slumped to a new record low.

Myhome, which is owned by The Irish Times, said annual asking-price inflation was now running at 12.3 per cent.

Price

This put the median or typical asking price for a home nationally at €295,000, and at €385,000 in Dublin.

MyHome said the number of available properties for sale on its website fell to a record low of 11,200 in March, down from a pre-pandemic level of 19,000. The squeeze on supply, it said, was most acute outside Dublin, with the number of properties listed for sale down almost 50 per cent compared with pre-pandemic levels.

It said impaired supply and robust demand meant double-digit inflation is likely until at least mid-2022.

“Housing market conditions have continued to tighten,” said author of the myhome report, Davy chief economist Conall Mac Coille.

“The broad picture of the market in early 2022 remains similar to last year: impaired supply coupled with robust demand due to Ireland’s strong labour market,” he said.

Soure: MyHome.ie

“One chink of light is that new instructions to sell of 7,500 in the first 11 weeks of 2022 are well up from 4,800 in 2021, albeit still below the 9,250 in 2019. The flow of new properties therefore remains impaired,” said Mr Mac Coille.

“Whatever new supply is emerging is being met by more than ample demand. Hence, transaction volumes in January and February were up 13 per cent on the year but pushed the market into ever tighter territory,” he said.

He said Davy was now predicting property-price inflation to average 7 per cent this year, up from a previous forecast of 4.5 per cent, buoyed strong employment growth.

Homes

Daft, meanwhile, said house asking prices indicated the average listed price nationwide in the first quarter of 2022 was €299,093, up 8.4 per cent on the same period in 2021 and and just 19 per cent below the Celtic Tiger peak, while noting increases remain smaller in urban areas, compared to rural.

Just 10,000 homes were listed for sale on its website as of March 1st, an all-time low. In Dublin, Cork and Galway cities, prices in the first quarter of 2022 were roughly 4 per cent higher on average than a year previously, while in Limerick and Waterford cities the increases were 7.6 per cent and 9.3 per cent respectively.

The report’s author, Trinity College Dublin economist Ronan Lyons, said: “Inflation in housing prices remains stubbornly high – with Covid-19 disturbing an equilibrium of sorts that had emerged, with prices largely stable in 2019 but increasing since.

“As has been the case consistently over the last decade, increasing prices – initially in Dublin and then elsewhere – reflect a combination of strong demand and very weak supply.”


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