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'Ambitious, but cautious measures': The key points from today's NPHET briefing

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

Deputy CMO Dr Ronan Glynn at this afternoon's NPHET briefing.
Deputy CMO Dr Ronan Glynn at this afternoon's NPHET briefing.
Image: Leah Farrell

PUBLIC HEALTH OFFICIALS today reported a further 545 new cases of Covid-19 in Ireland, with four additional deaths. 

The total number of Covid-19 cases now stands at 248,870. The number of people who have died has reached 4,903.

Today’s briefing was lead by Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan, deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn, chair of the NPHET Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group Professor Philip Nolan, and head of the Economic and Social Research Institute’s Behavioural Research Unit Professor Pete Lunn. 

Here are the key points that were made this afternoon.

Concern about Donegal 

  • Donegal has the highest 14-day incidence rate in Ireland. The Chief Medical Officer said officials are concerned about the situation there.

Dr Holohan said events are happening in Donegal that “the dogs on the street, including those in Donegal, know shouldn’t be happening”. 

He said there are “clear examples of non-compliance across many parts of society”.

NPHET is “particularly concerned” about infection rates in Donegal, parts of north Dublin and Kildare at the moment. 

Dr Glynn said workplaces are not a “key driver” of the situation in Donegal.  

“What’s being reported is persistent and unfortunately reasonably widespread non-compliance of basic measures,” he said.

These include: Birthday parties, older secondary school students meeting up socially outside school and social events linked to funerals and wakes. 

29 new cases were confirmed in Donegal today. The county has the highest 14-day incidence rate with 293.4 cases per 100,000 people. 

The national average rate is 127.3 per 100,000. 

Dr Glynn said the incidence rate in Donegal has “more or less” been above the national average since last September. 

Dr Holohan said that if the “situation that pertains in Donegal [was] pertaining to the rest of the country, we would not have been recommending” the loosened measures announced by government yesterday. 

A walk-in test centre has opened in Letterkenny at St Conal’s Hospital Campus. It’s open daily from 9.30am to 6pm until 7 May. 

Close contact numbers stabilising

  • Professor Pete Lunn gave an update on behavioural surveys about adherence to Covid-19 guidelines. 

Professor Lunn said that “overwhelmingly” peoples’ general anxiety and worry about the virus is “very closely related” to their self-reported degree of compliance. 

Data shows that the proportion of people who say they are staying home rather than going out has been “steadily falling” since the start of this year, according to Professor Lunn. 

However, “somewhere around 75% of the population there are saying that compared to normal times they’re definitely staying at home more than going out”, he added. 

He added that there has been a marked decline” in self-reported compliance with restrictions between January and April this year. 

Professor Lunn said surveys show there has been an increase in the safety of social meetings. In March, social visits often took place indoors without masks. 

Now, however, more of these meetings are taking place in safer ways outdoors. This has become evident since the easter period. 

Since this time, there there has also been a levelling off in the number of people survey respondents say they have met over the previous 48-hours. 

“Almost half the population are still in the situation where they are meeting nobody typically over a 48-hour period from outside their household,” Lunn said. 

In general, Lunn there is a “very balanced and broad support among the public” for the cautious lifting of restrictions. 

Despite reports of rare instances of blood clots associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine in particular, Lunn said the intention to take a Covid-19 vaccine remains “very very high”. 

Over 80% of people who responded to the surveys said they will take the vaccine when offered, with “most of the remainder saying they are still unsure”, according to Lunn. 

Recommendations to loosen restrictions 

  • The CMO said NPHET decided “now is the time” to recommend an “ambitious but cautious” loosening of some restrictions over the coming period.

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Dr Holohan said NPHET “felt there was a need” to examine the collective restrictions impacting everyone, along with individual restrictions applying to certain people. 

This led to a conclusion “that now is the time for us to move on and that we could be, as it were, ambitious but cautious in that ambition about the measures that would be in place”.

He said the “ambitious” measures are those taking effect largely from 10 May, and the caution lies in leaving four weeks before additional measures are set to be loosened to “be sure that we’ve seen the full effect of those measures”. 

Dr Ronan Glynn said that while restrictions are loosening, it’s “all the more important” to adhere to basic measures. 

The R number is currently estimated to be just above 1 – somewhere between 1 and 1.2. 

Dr Holohan said the situation the country is in now is a changed situation “epidemiologically from where it was back in the spring time” due to public adherence to restrictions and the increasing number of those vaccinated.

Schools and younger age groups

  • Public health officials are not seeing large Covid-19 outbreaks linked to schools. 

“Overall we’re not seeing many large outbreaks in schools. Most of the outbreaks tend to be really quite small between two and 10 cases,” Professor Nolan said. 

There was an increase in testing referrals for those aged 13-18 and associated increase in incidence levels, which appears to be stabilising now. 

There has been increased incidence in those aged under 12 since returning to school, Professor Nolan said. 

In terms of younger age groups getting Covid-19, he added that officials don’t want to be in a situation where there are hundreds of cases a day, mostly among people aged under 40. 

He said in this instance, 6-8 people would be admitted to hospital each day and there would still be associated deaths.

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