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'It's not clear to any of us what's going to happen next': The key points you need to know from tonight's NPHET briefing

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

Image: Sam Boal

TONIGHT’S BRIEFING BY the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), led by Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn, saw an additional 582 confirmed cases of Covid-19 reported and no new deaths.

Dr Glynn led the briefing alongside Professor Philip Nolan, Chair of the Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, Dr Cillian De Gascun, Director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory and Dr Mai Mannix, Director of Public Health at HSE Mid-West.

Here’s what was discussed at tonight’s briefing:

Vaccines

Dr Glynn welcomed the news by the EMA,  and said it would be discussed further on tonight and tomorrow morning before a position was arrived at.

He said the National Immunisation Advisory Committee was meeting with counterparts across Europe following the statement by the EMA on the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine.

“They’ll be considering it further this evening and tomorrow morning, and the HPRA (Health Products Regulatory Authority) are reviewing the statement and the findings,” he said.

“We’ll be deliberating between the organisations tonight and tomorrow morning, and we’ll issue an update tomorrow once we have come to a position.”

Case numbers

  • Professor Nolan said that the number of cases being reported is either static or declining slowly.

Professor Nolan has said that the case numbers being reported on a daily basis have either begun to decrease more slowly or have become static. 

According to Professor Nolan, current decline rates are estimated to be between 0% and -3% per day.

Nolan attributed this to two factors: Both an indication of increased mobility and mixing, alongside an increase in close contacts of confirmed cases. Currently, there is an average of 2.6 close contacts per adult confirmed case, compared to slightly over 2 in January.

“There’s a direct line can be drawn between those changes and the static number of cases that we’re seeing now,” said Professor Nolan.

Due to case number fluctuations, the reproduction number is now more uncertain, with Professor Nolan estimating it at between 0.8 and 1.1.

“That does leave us in a position where it’s not clear to any of us what’s going to happen next.”

If people have cut back on their level of social contact and mobility over the last week or fortnight, then we might expect case numbers to decline. If we haven’t, then case numbers could remain stable or increase.

“I think not only what the last few weeks has shown but what the last year has shown is that it’s only a marginal change in what we do is the difference between case numbers going down, case numbers being static and case numbers increasing,” said Professor Nolan.

Outbreaks

  • Professor Nolan and Dr Mannix said that they were concerned about the increased level of social contact and workplace attendance.

Dr Mannix provided examples of outbreaks that occurred in multiple different settings, from households to funerals to workplaces.

Dr Mannix urged people to be careful of mixing during funerals and said that there are other ways of expressing grief rather than attending wakes, including phone calls. 

She did, however, accept that it is “a very, very traumatic time for families”, and especially for those who have been bereaved during the pandemic.

At workplaces, Dr Mannix gave an example where there was an outbreak of 40 cases in a large workplace.

According to Dr Mannix, two-metre distancing was being observed within that workplace, but there was slippage during smoke breaks when people were congregating together outside.

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Dr Glynn said that he was conscious of the group of people who have to travel to work every day, but that employees who have the option to work from home should do so and that employers should facilitate that.

It’s not in any of our interests for ongoing increases in mobility and return to workplaces that will lead to more disease, it will lead to us having fewer and fewer options around what we can recommend, and none of us wants to be in that position,” said Dr Glynn.

According to Professor Nolan, less than one-third of transmissions are happening in a workplace setting, but the issue begins when it arrives into a household from a workplace outbreak.

For any one transmission that might be occurring, then once it gets into the house it’s massively amplified by the fact that there might be, in each household it gets into, one, two or three people in that household who almost inevitably get the disease.

Variants

  • Dr De Gascun said that there had been a number of additional cases of variants discovered in Ireland.

Dr De Gascun spoke briefly about a number of variants of Covid-19, with 24 total cases of the South African variant detected in Ireland, seven confirmed cases of the Brazil variant, five of the New York variant and 11 of the B1525 variant.

However, Dr De Gascun said that the vast majority of these are to do with travel, and that there is no significant level of community transmission.

Dr De Gascun also said that it would be difficult for a new variant to come into Ireland and become dominant, due to the high prevalence of the UK B117 variant in Ireland. 

Currently, over 90% of all cases are the B117 variant.

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