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Since Ireland started to re-open, the average number of close contacts in Covid-19 cases has begun to rise

The public have been warned to limit their close contacts as much as possible as the restrictions are eased.

THE NUMBER OF close contacts of the average confirmed case of Covid-19 began to rise when the first restrictions began to lift in Ireland, according to the latest HSE figures.

Throughout April and May, the mean number of close contacts in confirmed cases hovered between two and three while the median stayed largely static at two.

This began to rise, however, as Phase One of Ireland’s roadmap to re-opening began on 18 May. 

Towards the end of the month, the mean number of close contacts rose to four while the median fluctuated regularly between three and two. So far this month, the mean and median of close contacts per case has continued to fluctuate but are at a higher level than they were in April and early May. 

mean median A graph showing the number of close contacts per case of Covid-19

Earlier this week, the average number of close contacts rose above five while the median reached 3.5 and then four before both figures dropped again the following day. 

The public have been warned to limit their close contacts as much as possible as Ireland begins to re-open to help prevent further spread of Covid-19.

Health Minister Simon Harris last weekend urged people not to “clock up” the number of close contacts they have with people. 

“We have a duty to each other to keep our close contacts low,” he said. “We don’t need to meet three people in the morning and a different five friends in the afternoon and a different group of people in the evening and then go and see our granny at night.

“We don’t need to try and clock up lots of close contacts because we do know that, of the new case in Ireland around 60%, of them are from close contacts.”

The mean time it now takes to complete all contact tracing calls is three days, according to the HSE. The turnaround time for a swab taken is 1.2 days while the mean turnaround from referral to an appointment is now 1.1 days. 

On Tuesday, deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said that contact tracing had been completed on over 25,000 cases to date.

“Going forward, we can all assist them in their work by limiting the number of people we meet and keeping a log of the people we interact with every day,” he said. 

Medical Protection Society

Separately today, the government is being warned that if backlogs in referrals and delayed follow-ups in secondary care are not dealt with adequately, it is facing into a potential “patient safety crisis and a tsunami of future claims or investigations”.

That is according to the Medical Protection Society – an organisation that supports doctors and other healthcare professionals with ethical and legal problems that arise from their clinical practice.

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In a survey, which had responses from 211 doctors in Ireland, the Medical Protection Society said that 38% of doctors are concerned they will face a regulatory or criminal investigation if patients come to harm as a result of delayed referrals or non-Covid services being unavailable or limited.

At the onset of the crisis, a large number of outpatient appointments were cancelled and a number of screening programmes paused.

Speaking in the Dáil last month, Labour leader Alan Kelly said a plan to get normal diagnostics and screening services back up and running could not “wait any longer”.

Figures obtained by RTÉ News in May also showed that no mammograms were carried out by BreastCheck in April this year, compared to 13,763 in the same month last year. 

Addressing the Special Oireachtas Committee on Covid-19 response, the Irish Medical Organisation said that due to the cancellation of non-urgent care across the system, 570,000 people are still waiting for an outpatient appointment, with a further 230,000 on a waiting list for an inpatient or day-case procedure.

Dr Rob Hendry, from the Medical Protection Society, said: “Buried within these many delayed referrals will be patients with serious conditions, not yet identified. For some, if diagnoses are missed or significantly delayed this could seriously impact those patients’ prognoses and outcomes.”

About the author:

Sean Murray

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