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'I've been struck by the public's response to what the disease is doing': The key points from tonight's NPHET briefing

A round-up of NPHET’s press briefing at the Department of Health this evening.

Image: Leah Farrell

PUBLIC HEALTH OFFICIALS today announced a further 617 new cases of Covid-19 in Ireland, with 10 further deaths. 

The total number of Covid-19 cases since the outbreak of the virus here last year now stands at 245,310. The number of people who have died has reached 4,866.

Tonight’s briefing was lead by Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan; Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn; Prof Philip Nolan, Chair of the NPHET Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group; and Prof Martin Cormican, Professor of Bacteriology at NUI Galway.

Here are the key points that were made tonight.

A ‘slight spike’ in cases

  • Although slightly concerned, NPHET are expecting today’s slight increase in cases to be ‘transient’ – a temporary blip linked to restrictions being lifted on 12 April.

There has been a slight increase in cases today, and an increase in average hospitalisations that has left NPHET officials “a little concerned”.

For three weeks, there have been an average of 13 hospital admissions per day. Over the last three days, however, there have been 18/19 admissions per day.

In the “slight spike in cases” Prof Philip Nolan said there is “a need for care”, but explained that they expected an increase of sorts 10 days on from the easing of restrictions on 12 April, when all students returned to schools, some construction resumed, and people could travel 20km or within their county.

 What we tend to see is there’s a period of easing of restrictions, people may do things that they stored up not doing for a period of time. Case counts go up, people see that, and they realise that they need to de-risk their behaviours. 

He said that he has stated previously that the public “reads this disease very well”. He also encouraged anyone who is asymptomatic to go for a test in the walk-in centres over the next couple of days.

“Today, people will be aware that there’s an unexpectedly high number of cases today. That causes people to reassess what they might do over the coming weeks, to limit the risk of transmission, to limit that spike.

I’ve been very struck, over the last couple of months, by the feedback loop there is between the level of disease and population behaviour.

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“I’ve been struck by the value of clearly demonstrating to the public what the disease is doing, and even more struck by the public response. We can nearly see the suppression of disease occurring a week to 10 days after the most significant increases in disease.” 

Outbreaks in schools and workplaces
  • The bulk of the increase in cases is in 13-18 year olds, and counties with the highest incidence rates are ones where workplace clusters have happened.

The increase of the rest of school children – in first year to fourth year – took place 10 days ago. Prof Nolan said that this is expected to result in a slight increase in cases, and to then stabalise, as was the case with the phased return of primary schools.

He said that the increase in cases over the last 48 hours “really is dominated by an increased detection in those aged 13 to 18 years of age”.

“A very large cohort of them had returned to school and, appropriately and understandably, with any symptoms they are being referred for tests, and that is picking up some additional cases.”

He said that though this was “the bulk of the cases”, there were also “a significant increase” in cases among those aged 19-24, 40-64, and an increase in the 65-74 group.

Last week, there were 16 outbreaks in workplaces, 11 in childcare facilities and 5 in schools. This week so far, there have been 12 outbreaks in workplaces, 17 in childcare facilities, and 26 in schools.

All bar two of the outbreaks in schools and childcare settings had less than 10 cases, and the two that had more than that had less than 15 cases.

Of cases in workplace settings, Dr Glynn said that there are “significantly sized” workplace outbreaks around the country, with some having 50/60/70 cases per outbreak.

Tony Holohan is back

  • The Chief Medical Officer said the difference between where Ireland is now, and where we had been when he last chaired NPHET briefings, would give you hope.
Isn’t it easy to forget how far we’ve come.

Dr Tony Holohan has been on leave since early February, and he says since then the disease has “really changed in terms of the transmission patterns”.

He said that the number of vulnerable are also being vaccinated.

“When I look at those two things coming back to work, it gives me real hope and confidence that we’re moving through our response to this disease in a way that might enable us to be ambitious about the types of things that would be sensible for us to contemplate easing.

“I think the calculus has changed in broad terms when we see an increasing proportion of those people who are at most risk of the severe affects of this disease being protected by the wonderful addition of vaccination.”

What’s next?

  • Dr Holohan said that we cannot tell where we will be by the autumn, but said that once the vulnerable and over 50s are vaccinated, we can’t let up all restrictions.

Dr Ronan Glynn said something hopeful about the power of science.

Yes, there are significant uncertainties, but what we’ve seen over the past year is that science has essentially stepped up beyond our expectations.

“There are uncertainties around whether or not we’ll need booster vaccines: science and industry research is happening at the moment to facilitate the development of those vaccines.

“There’s uncertainty around the need for vaccination among children. But again, there’s work ongoing so that if children do need to be vaccinated, then those vaccines are available.

“So yes, there are uncertainties around the global picture and how that will impact on us over time, but I think we can have a reasonable degree of confidence that science will continue to step up and provide the answers that we need to in order to move on.”

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