Ireland in 'vulnerable position' says CMO as hospitalisations plateau

Dr Tony Holohan, © PA Wire/PA Images
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Digital Desk Staff

The chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said Ireland has made great progress in recent weeks in "radically reducing the transmission" of Covid-19, but remains in a "very vulnerable position", particularly regarding the ongoing pressure on the healthcare system.

According to the HSE, at 11am today there were 1,620 people with the virus in hospital, a decrease from 1,727 recorded on Tuesday, while there are now 216 people with the virus in Intensive Care Units (ICU).

In a letter to the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly dated January 21st, Dr Holohan confirmed the reproductive, or R rate was estimated to be between 0.5-0.8, as daily case numbers decreased rapidly at roughly -7 to -8 per cent per day.

At that time, Ireland's 7-day incidence rate per 100,000 was 425, while our 14-day incidence rate stood 1,223 having decreased from 799 and 1,448 respectively from the previous week. On Wednesday evening, the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) confirmed Ireland's 14-day incidence rate per 100,000 was now 674.2.


Dr Holohan remarked that the UK variant of the virus, which is more transmissible, is quickly becoming dominant here, which may cause the reproductive number to "drift upwards in the coming weeks".

The CMO also predicted Ireland would see between 1,400-1,700 new cases daily by the end of January and between 200-900 cases per day by the end of February.

Nphet's modelling suggested hospitalisations had already begun to plateau on January 21st, but Dr Holohan's letter added: "The number of people requiring critical care is approaching its highest level.

"We expect that the numbers of people requiring hospital and critical care will decrease very slowly, depending not only on the rate at which incidence in the community falls, but also on the persistence of infection in older and vulnerable people and on the control and the rate of containment of outbreaks in the hospitals themselves."


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In his letter, Dr Holohan conveyed Nphet's opinion that the Level 5 lockdown should be extended to February 28th, which was subsequently agreed upon by Cabinet and announced by Taosieach Micheál Martin on Tuesday.

Explaining the decision, the CMO wrote: "This advice is guided by the absolute priority of protecting public health, particularly in relation to those most vulnerable to the severe outcomes of Covid-19 and ensuring the safe return of all health and social care services, education and childcare services."

Dr Holohan also recommended that the HSE resume the testing of close contacts of confirmed cases, which was halted at the end of September on account of the surge in daily case numbers.

He also confirmed Nphet supported the proposed change to the Irish case definition of Covid-19 to allow for antigen testing in addition to PCR testing.

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