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Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Health

Coronavirus: Two more deaths and 235 new cases in Ireland confirmed

The numbers come following a change to the testing criteria announced last night.

LAST UPDATE | 25 Mar 2020

A FURTHER 235 cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed in the Republic of Ireland, bringing the total here to 1,564

Two more deaths connected to the coronavirus have also been confirmed, bringing the total number of deaths in this country to nine.

The two patients who died are a female in the east of the country who had an underlying health condition and a male in the east of the country, of whom no underlying health condition was reported. 

The HSE is now working to identify any contacts the new patients may have had to provide them with information and advice to prevent further spread.

In Northern Ireland, 37 new positive cases were confirmed this morning, bringing the total number of cases to 209. There have been seven deaths in Northern Ireland. 

Speaking at this evening’s briefing, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tony Holohan said that the number of contacts of confirmed cases is dropping, suggesting positive compliance with social distancing guidelines. 

“We have seen through our contact tracing data a reduction of 20 per case approximately two weeks ago and dropping to 10 per case approximately one week ago, and down now to about five contacts per case. Again, giving us encouragement in terms of the compliance with social distancing that we’ve had in place in the last 10 days or so,” he said. 

The Health Protection Surveillance Centre has said that of the total of 1,164 cases, 305 (26%) people have been hospitalised, with 39 of those people admitted to intensive care.

Asked at this evening’s briefing about the number of patients who have fully recovered from the condition, Holohan said this information is not currently available but should be “very shortly”. 

“The work we’re doing now, with both our modeling group and with the HSE and with our hospital systems, is to try and build us a capacity to be able to report that kind of information in real-time,” he said.

We expect to be there very, very shortly, in a position to give comprehensive real-time reporting in relation to those kinds of pieces of information.

This evening’s briefing by department officials comes following a change to the criteria people must meet to be tested for the condition.

Under new rules, patients will now have to show two major symptoms and be in a particular group in order to be put forward for a test for the coronavirus.

They include those in contact with a confirmed case, healthcare workers, those within vulnerable groups, prison inmates and workers, and those who live in long-term care facilities.

Speaking about this change, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ronan Glynn said it “remains the strategy” to “test as many people as possible”. 

“But what we’ve said over the past 24 hours is that, clearly, the vast majority of people that have been tested over the past couple of weeks, with widening of the case definition, have tested negative.

And so what we’ve done in response to that is to tighten our case definition, to essentially make it more likely that the people who we are testing, that we’re picking up the people that actually have the disease, and therefore we can target the resources of the health service more effectively at contact tracing all of their contacts.

Dr Colm Henry, Chief Clinical Officer at the HSE, said that the executive has been engaging with GPs today to assist them with patient queries on the new testing criteria.

“Patients who have questions of how it pertains to them, whether they’re waiting for tests or they feel that they may need to test, the proper way to do that is directly through their GP,” Henry said.

“And that’s what we intend, to make this communication clear so we’re confident that the discussions we’ve had with GPs today will give them the information they need to field any inquiries and give the proper advice to patients.”

In a statement issued this evening, Dr Mary Favier, president of the Irish College of General Practitioners, said that the revised testing protocol has created considerable additional strain for GPs.

“At this time of national emergency, decisions by public health officials are being made in all our best interest and at very short notice,” Favier said. 

Ramping up

Yesterday, the HSE said that 14,692 samples have been tested and 93% returned negative.

Holohan said this evening that health officials are working towards a target of being able to carry out 15,000 tests per day by the middle of April. 

He said that when the criteria was previously widened to remove to allow people who hand’t travelled from affected areas to receive a test, about 20,000 people per day were seeking one, a level he described as “neither feasible or sustainable”. 

“Our view is that many more people that are ever likely to have this particular disease, have been seeking testing, well beyond a level that was either necessary, feasible or sustainable in terms of a testing strategy,” Holohan said.

At the briefing, the health officials also acknowledged the continuing challenges in relation to securing personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare staff.

Dr Colm Henry said the first haul of PPE from China will be here on Sunday and that equipment like masks, gowns, goggles are “coming in their millions”.

“We’re talking about millions of respiratory masks, facial masks, long-sleeved gowns, goggles, all that equipment we need will be coming in, in millions, in 50-60 airplane loads, beginning we hope this coming Sunday from China,” he said.

- With reporting by Michelle Hennessy

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