Covid-19: Close contacts no longer advised to get tested as 1,620 new cases reported

ireland
Dr Tony Holohan said the country was now at a point of 'unsustainable growth' in the level of infections. Photo: PA
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The Department of Health is no longer advising the close contacts of people infected with Covid-19 to get tested, with the State's test-and-trace system under intense strain during the latest coronavirus surge.

The announcement comes as 12 further deaths and 1,620 new cases of Covid were recorded in the Republic on Thursday.

There has now been a total of 2,237 coronavirus-related deaths in the State.

Of the new cases, 65 per cent are in people aged under 45, with 498 cases located in Dublin, 203 in Limerick, 89 in Galway, 73 in Cork, 67 in Mayo and the remaining 690 cases spread across all other counties.

The latest figures show 490 Covid-19 patients are in hospital, with 42 in intensive care.

Counties Monaghan and Donegal have the highest infection rates in the State.

In Monaghan, the 14-day incidence rate per 100,000 population is 553.9, and in Donegal it stands at 532.1. The lowest rate is in Leitrim, at 112.4 cases per 100,000.

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The chief medical officer, Dr Tony Holohan, said the escalation in infections in the general population “gives great cause for concern”.

“This disease is now widespread in our communities and as a result we are asking everyone to behave as if they are a close contact,” he said.

“To support the testing system through this surge, we are no longer advising close contacts of confirmed cases to get tested. Testing and tracing is an exercise in containment and we are no longer in a containment phase.

“However, it is imperative that if you are a close contact of a confirmed case you restrict your movements and contact your GP immediately if you develop symptoms.”

Testing backlog

A senior public health official said the number of positive cases of Covid-19 is under-reported by an estimated 4,000, due to delays in recording positive test results on the system over the Christmas period.

Professor Philip Nolan, chair of the Nphet Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, said the situation had deteriorated rapidly over the past week, and that we are “clearly in the midst of the third wave”.

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He said the reproductive number is at least 1.6 to 1.8, and the daily growth rate is estimated at 7 to 10 per cent, giving a doubling time of seven to 10 days.

“We know of additional positive tests that have yet to be reported on the system in recent days,” he told a press briefing on Thursday. “This system wasn’t designed to report 2,000, 3,000 or 4,000 tests per day,” he said.

Prof Nolan said that this lag “in no way interferes” with identifying cases, but acknowledged the epidemiological situation is “somewhat worse” than has been reported.

Separately, the HSE confirmed that it will not be referring close contacts for a Covid-19 test from Thursday onwards. It said the step was being taken to ensure that people who display symptoms are prioritised and receive a test as quickly as possible.

The HSE’s chief clinical officer, Dr Colm Henry, said staying at home and restricting movements was “the strongest defence we have against the spread of this virus”.

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He added that the reintroduction of Level 5 restrictions from today was essential to protect vital public services such as hospital admissions and non-Covid care and to have the maximum impact in the shortest possible timeframe to minimise the spread of the disease.

December socialising

Earlier Dr Holohan blamed a “substantial amount” of socialising in December for the sharp rise in Covid-19 cases over Christmas.

He said the country was now at a point of “unsustainable growth” in the level of infections.

Dr Holohan told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme: “We know a substantial amount of activity took place in the days and weeks following that easing of restrictions.

“We know that the average number of contacts – we track this kind of information – that each case is identifying has increased sharply to levels that we haven’t seen since the beginning of this pandemic.

“And we engaged in an amount of social activity across society that really provided this opportunity for the virus to transmit at the kinds of levels we are now seeing.”

Dr Holohan said the country was now at a point of “unsustainable growth in the level of infections, albeit still lower levels than the rest of Europe is experiencing, but one that really creates a risk”.

New measures

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Taoiseach Micheál Martin described the state of the pandemic as “extremely serious” as he announced the introduction of stricter measures for at least one month in a televised address to the nation on Wednesday evening.

The new measures include a ban on visitors in private homes or gardens unless they are providing care to children or the elderly or vulnerable, or part of a support bubble.

No social or family gatherings in any setting will be permitted, with an exemption for weddings with up to six guests, and funerals with up to 10 mourners.

The public is being asked to remain at home, apart from travel for work, education or other essential purposes.

Exercise is permitted within 5km of home, but all non-essential retail and gyms will shut their doors at close of business on Thursday.

Schools will reopen on January 11th, extending the Christmas break by three days. – Additional reporting: PA

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