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Dr Holohan says 'no reason' to change his view on possibility of up to 1,000 Covid-19 deaths this month

Meanwhile, the latest letter from the Chief Medical Officer said that ‘optimistic’ projections show between 800 and 1,600 cases per day at the end of January.

Image: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

Updated Jan 21st 2021, 9:16 PM

THE LATEST LETTER from NPHET to the Government said that it’s expected there will be between 500 and 1,000 deaths of people with Covid-19 in January alone.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan wrote last week that due to “the large number” of outbreaks in longterm residential facilities and hospitals, “it is anticipated that a total of at least 500-1,000 deaths may occur in the month of January”.

The number of Covid-related deaths in the community, which excludes deaths linked to outbreaks in nursing homes and hospitals, “will reach a peak of at least 25-30 deaths per day and that these levels will persist at least for the rest of January”.

At tonight’s NPHET briefing, Dr Holohan said that he saw “no reason” to change his view, when asked if he believed there could be 1,000 deaths in the month of January. 

There have been 523 deaths of people with Covid-19 in January so far.

That compares to 173 Covid-19 deaths that occurred in December, 163 in November, 120 in October and 36 in September.

In a statement this evening, deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said that “we can unfortunately expect this trend to continue over the coming days”. 

Dr Holohan said that we are still coping with a “very large burden of disease” despite case numbers declining from earlier peaks reached this month.

He also pointed to the presence of the new variant of Covid-19 in Ireland, which was first identified in the UK, as a cause for concern. 

The chief medical officer said he had “no reason to disagree” with the Taoiseach, who suggested earlier that restrictions will continue “well into” February and beyond

“We have to look at back… we’re still 10 times approximately [figures at the beginning of December],” he said. “We’re still 10 times the level of infection we had at that point. It’s simply too high… We have further progress that we need to make. We have to maintain [our efforts] for a substantially longer period of time to get the levels of transmission down.”

NPHET letter

In a letter to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly dated last Thursday, Dr Holohan said that as of 14 January, there had been 182 deaths notified with a date of death in January.

“Of the 182 deaths in January to date, 23 have thus far been associated with hospital outbreaks and 38 have been associated with nursing home outbreaks,” he wrote to Donnelly.

Holohan also wrote that “optimistic projections, which assume we are past the peak of the third wave, show between 800 and 1,600 cases per day at the end of January 2021″.

Some other points raised in the letter:

  • The average number of adult close contacts per case remained below 3.3 until early December, rose to almost 5 on average by 28 December, and is at 2.3 per case as of last week.
  • The best estimate of the reproduction number that has led to the cases being reported last week is in the region of 1.0-1.3.
  • The positivity rate has decreased to 17.5% on 13 January from 21.9% the previous week on 6 January. It’s currently at around 13% this week.
  • “Of great concern” is that the number of patients with Covid-19 receiving critical care has almost doubled since last week. There were 176 confirmed cases in critical care last week, compared with 89 on 6 January. There are over 200 in ICUs now.

Holohan said that the situation Ireland was in was still one of “profound concern”.

Travel

Holohan also raised NPHET’s concerns in the letter about international travel in and out of Ireland.

NPHET is recommending that further measures should be adopted on international travel, apart from the requirement to present evidence of a negative/not-detected RT-PCR test result, taken 72 hours prior to arrival to Ireland. 

A pre-travel test alone is not a sufficiently robust system for the prevention of disease importation and modelling shows that even the best-performing tests will miss up to 40% of cases.
NPHET noted that in response to the emergence of variant strains, many EU countries have adopted more stringent travel policies to meet these new risks. These include combinations of pre-departure testing, quarantine requirements on arrival and post-arrival testing rules.

At the NPHET briefing, Dr Holohan said there was “substantial justification” for an “aggressive containment” strategy when it came to ensuring new variants of the virus don’t become widespread here. 

“We advise that we see travel as being an important measure in continuing to slow down the spread of variants,” he said. 

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Although there has been fresh consideration of introducing mandatory quarantine in Ireland as similar proposals are being considered in the UK, there are concerns among Government figures that this could have a serious impact on trade.

Responding to the issue raised in the Dáil today, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said that the number of people coming into Ireland is now down to 33,000 people per week.

Varadkar said that quarantining that many people would be a huge issue, as many are travelling to attend a funeral, or are essential workers. The big flaw with hotel quarantine is that it would be largely ineffective due to the Northern Ireland border, Varadkar said.

Speaking to The Hard Shoulder on Newstalk this evening, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly also said that quarantining would be difficult to implement.

With reporting from Christina Finn, Cónal Thomas and Sean Murray.

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