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R number drops to between 0.5 and 0.8 - but NPHET warns this will be 'really difficult to sustain'

Health officials have regularly sought to get the reproductive number below 1.

Philip Nolan, Chair of the NPHET Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group
Philip Nolan, Chair of the NPHET Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group
Image: RollingNews.ie

THE NATIONAL PUBLIC Health Emergency Team (NPHET) has reported that Ireland’s Covid-19 reproductive number has dropped to between 0.5 and 0.8.

The figure means that every ten people who contract the virus will pass it on to between five and eight other people on average between them.

Health officials have regularly sought to get the so-called R-number below 1, as doing so means the spread of the virus in society is being driven downwards.

The chair of NPHET’s Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group Professor Philip Nolan explained that the figure reflected “very low levels of contact” in Irish society at the moment.

However, at a briefing given by health officials this evening, he warned that the number would be difficult to maintain in the coming weeks and that Ireland faced a challenge to maintain the suppression of Covid-19.

“I do have to say that this is going to be really difficult to sustain for two reasons,” Nolan said.

“We’re going to find it hard to maintain that very low level of contact.

“And secondly, we have a headwind in the form of an increase that prevalence of the B117 variant [from the UK], and because that’s more transmissible, reproduction number is going to drift upwards, even we keep our levels of social contact constant.”

His remarks came as NPHET reported 51 more deaths and 2,608 new cases of Covid-19 in Ireland this evening.

Nolan also pointed to modelling conducted by NPHET that forecast a range of scenarios where the R-number moved from between 0.5 and 0.9, up to 2.6 in a few weeks’ time.

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He explained that a reproduction number between 0.5 and 0.9 would mean around 1,400-1,700 new cases of Covid-19 reported every day at the end of January.

But he re-iterated that such a prediction was uncertain given the UK variant and a possible increase in social contacts were likely to be factors in the coming weeks.

“It’s difficult to say right now what’s going to happen beyond that because it does depend[...] on what we do collectively.

“Can we maintain this to keep our level of contact very low and also to be very careful during those contacts?

“The B117 variant will inevitably become dominant and that does inevitably increase the reproduction number.”

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