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Zero-Covid policy would leave Ireland 'vulnerable': 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: Sasko Lazarov/Rollingnews.ie

PUBLIC HEALTH OFFICIALS confirmed 1,466 new cases of Covid-19 and 44 deaths in Ireland this evening’s press briefing of the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) addressed the latest Covid-19 developments. 

This evening’s figures mean that there have now been a total of 192,645 cases of Covid-19 in Ireland, along with 3,167 deaths.

The speakers at the briefing were Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan and Deputy CMO Dr Ronan Glynn, Chair of the NPHET Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group Professor Philip Nolan, and National Clinical Director Health Protection Dr Lorraine Doherty,

Here’s what was discussed at this evening’s briefing:

Zero-Covid

  • Health officials at this evening’s briefing cautioned against advocating for a “zero-Covid” approach, which would involve seeking to completely eliminate the virus and returning to some level of “normalcy”.

Professor Philip Nolan said that it would be a “false promise” to say that measures could be put in place now to safely lead to a move to Level One or “Zero” on the restrictions framework in a matter of months.

He said it would be a highly risky decision and that Ireland would “inevitably be a leaky country”, with a re-entry of disease during lax restrictions having the potential to cause damage. 

He said it was more realistic to get the level of the virus down and keep it low. 

Similarly, Dr Tony Holohan said that the lower the level of the virus and the closer to zero cases, the better, but that a strategy of eliminating cases and significantly relaxing restrictions would leave Ireland vulnerable to a breach that would put us at risk.

If a zero-Covid strategy was put in place, it would mean Ireland would need to be in a position to “rapidly identify cases”.

He said a “far more reasonable strategy” is to pursue the policies currently in place. 

Transmission

  • Professor Nolan said that the country has made “huge progress”, but that the level of disease still remains very high.

The daily incidence rate has fallen to around a quarter of what it was earlier in the month, but is still several times higher than in December.

Professor Nolan said that if current levels of people keeping to restrictions are maintained, daily figures could be around 200-400 cases by the end of February.

Dr Lorraine Doherty warned that there is a “domino effect” observed of cases “rippling through the community” from some attendance at events that shouldn’t be happening under the current restrictions.

She said that one member of a family becoming infected by not following restrictions can quickly spread to others in their household, and that “every infection has a consequence”.

Professor Nolan said that Ireland is in a “positive position” and that we have “a long way to go, but we need to keep going”. 

Variants

  • Professor Nolan said that the country has been succeeding at reducing transmission overall, and importantly, at slowing the spread of the variant from the UK.

“Because there are so few opportunities to transmit, it’s finding it harder to become dominant,” Nolan said.

He said that the strain will still become dominant in Ireland, but not as soon as it might have otherwise.

There have not yet been any cases of the new variant from Brazil identified in Ireland.

Dr Doherty said that officials have “not yet detected any case in Ireland with the Brazilian variant.”

Some people who had travelled from Brazil recently came forward for testing after the HSE put out a call for people who had been in the country to identify themselves to their GPs.

Dr Holohan said that some of those people tested positive for Covid-19, but that none of those were attributable to the new strain.

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Nine cases of the variant from South Africa have been identified Ireland in people who have a direct travel link to the country, Dr Doherty said.

Hospitals

  • In hospitals, officials are beginning to see a slower rate of new Covid-19 patients, but the number of patients in hospital still remains high.

Nolan said that Covid-19 patients in ICU also remained high, but “quite static”.

Modelling from the Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group suggests that if people keep following restrictions, daily figures could be around 600-800 people with Covid-19 in hospital.

In ICUs, Covid-19 patients could fall to around 60-80 by the end of next month if current trends continue.

At 2pm today, there were 1,567 people with Covid-19 in hospital and 216 in ICU.

Deaths

  • An average of 50 deaths has been reported daily over the last seven days, with 47 further deaths confirmed today.

Professor Nolan said that the average number of deaths per day exceeds what we saw in April and May.

Additionally, the proportion of deaths that came from nursing homes was higher last April and May compared to now.

Professor Nolan said that deaths were “dominated” by nursing homes during the first wave, accounting for close to two-thirds.

“In this wave, there’s a greater balance between deaths in the community and deaths in [long-term care facilities],” he said.

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