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ESRI: risky interactions by 'hundreds of thousands' of people 'likely' to be causing plateau in Covid-19 figures

The finding was contained in a new report by the ESRI.

Image: Shutterstock/EvaL Miko

THE ESRI HAS warned that risky social interactions by “hundreds of thousands of individuals” is likely to be contributing to the current plateau in the number of Covid-19 cases being reported in Ireland.

A fortnightly opinion poll conducted by the institute for the Department of An Taoiseach has found that the level of household visits increased by around a third from late January to the end of February. 

The nationally representative survey of 1,000 adults, conducted in the week beginning 22 February, revealed that although the majority of people are still not meeting up with others, social mixing by smaller parts of the population is on the rise.

The poll found that almost one in five people (18.8%) hosted someone from another household in the week before the survey was taken, with one in 11 (8.9%) visiting another household.

Of these, around half were deemed to be social visits, with the other half occurring for professional reasons or to provide care.

One in 19 people (5.4%) was a close contact with someone else in their own home, up from one in 26 people (3.9%) two weeks previously.

A further one in 23 people (4.4%) was a close contact in someone else’s home, up from one in 32 (3.1%) a week previously.

ESRI household visits (1203) Source: ESRI/Department of An Taoiseach

Good weather was said to be behind an increase in the number of people making trips to outdoor locations, such as parks, beaches and countryside areas, with one in 16 people (6.2%) in the poll saying they met up with someone else outdoors.

The majority of close contacts were found to occur in workplaces, with one in ten people surveyed (10.4%) reporting having had at least one contact at work.

However, around four in five of these people reported wearing a face mask when they were in contact with another person.

In contrast, very few people who said they had a close contact inside a person’s home reported wearing a mask at the time. Around one in ten people surveyed (11%) who said they interacted with another person in a household setting reported wearing a face mask.

In a report accompanying the poll, the institute warned that while these percentages are a small proportion of the overall population, they still represent a significant cohort of people. 

“While these proportions of people engaging in risky interactions may appear low in percentage terms, it is important to understand that they involve hundreds of thousands of individuals and are likely to be slowing the current decrease in Covid-19 case numbers,” the report reads.

The survey also found that one in four people (24%) was in ‘close contact’ with another person outside their household in the 24 hours before the poll was carried out.

That represented an increase from one in five people (20%) from a poll conducted four weeks previously.

But around half of people in the latest poll (50.6%) also said they are still not meeting up with anybody else from outside their household, with another quarter of respondents (25.2%) saying they met up with only one or two people.

However, another quarter of those who responded (24.2%) said they met up with three or more people in the 48 hours before the survey was carried out, including one in 13 people (7.7%) who said they met up with seven people or more.

The poll also found that large mis-perceptions remain among people about how their own activity compares to what others are doing under Covid-19 restrictions.

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It revealed that despite being among the smallest proportion of the population, those who meet up with seven people or more from different households continue to believe that they meet up with fewer people than average.

ESRI social mix perception of others (1203) Source: ESRI/Department of An Taoiseach

The findings come after NPHET warned that Ireland remains in a precarious position in its attempts to reduce the spread of Covid-19. 

“We are sailing very close to the wind here,” Professor Philip Nolan told reporters last night, when 592 new cases of the virus were confirmed.

“The last couple of days just emphasise to me [that] a gust of wind in the wrong direction, and we’re in real trouble.”

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