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Philip Nolan: Level 3 measures stabilise, but don't reduce, virus transmission

Professor Nolan gave an update on the Covid-19 situation in Ireland at a briefing this evening.

Professor Philip Nolan at a press briefing in the Department of Health this evening.
Professor Philip Nolan at a press briefing in the Department of Health this evening.
Image: Sam Boal

DATA HAS SHOWN that Level 3 measures appear to stabilise but not reduce the level of transmission of the coronavirus, according to Professor Philip Nolan.

Nolan, the chair of the NPHET Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, said this is based on data from the period of Level 3 restrictions in Dublin. 

“As a broad conclusion… Level 3 measures appear to stabilise, but not reduce transmission of the virus,” Nolan said at a press briefing this evening. 

“They bring the reproduction number down to close to one, stabilising case numbers at whatever case number you’re at, but not reducing case numbers.

And if case numbers are high it leaves you, as Dublin was left, very vulnerable to a further surge.  

Dublin entered Level 3 restrictions on 18 September. This remained in place with additional measures announced three weeks later, before the entire country was moved into Level 5 last week. 

Case numbers in the capital stabilised “almost immediately” after Level 3 measures were introduced. 

017 Department of Health briefing Daily incidence rate data in Dublin. Source: Rollingnews.ie

“What that tells us is that people in Dublin began to reduce their levels of contact before the formal measures were introduced,” Nolan said. 

He said a decrease in the number of contacts per confirmed case was noticed about a week or ten days before Level 3 measures began. 

However, case numbers began to rise “quite precipitously” over the following ten days in Dublin. 

Nolan said the data has not yet made clear why the numbers began to rise again.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said yesterday that the government has “an idea of what Level 3 can do now”. He said he to get the numbers “really down so we can have a meaningful Christmas”. 

In terms of the situation across the country at the moment, Nolan said it is “the first time in three months that I have been able to report positive indications that we are starting to suppress transmission of the virus”. 

He added, however, that this position is “fragile”. 

Our experience and the experience across Europe shows that when we achieve this sort of suppression, the important thing is to make it last.

Nolan said this “good news” should be taken as a signal to “maintain those efforts” of reducing contacts and abiding by Level 5 restrictions. 

012 Department of Health briefing Confirmed case numbers per day. Source: Rollingnews.ie

“We need to sustain our efforts to further reduce transmission. We have a job to do to get the reproductive number as low as we can and cases as low as we can so that when we finish this six-week period, the force of infection is as low as possible,” he said. 

Today, six further deaths and 772 new Covid-19 cases were confirmed in Ireland.

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Nolan said the seven-day average for case numbers has reduced from close to 1,200 per day last week to 836 on average today. 

The 14-day incidence rate which peaked at 310 cases per 100,000 people last week has now reduced to 287 per 100,000. 

Nolan said this is an indication the country is “seeing a real decrease in transmission”. 

There are currently 325 people with Covid-19 in hospital and 42 in ICU.

010 Department of Health briefing Data on number of tests completed per day on average. Source: Sam Boal

On average last week, there were over 14,000 tests completed each day. The positivity rate peaked at 7.9% recently. This has reduced to 5.3% at the moment. 

The R-number has also decreased to very close to one or slightly below one and Nolan said this figure is expected to reduce further again in the coming weeks.  

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