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'Coming to the end of this period of the pandemic': The key points you need to know from tonight's NPHET briefing

Behavioural data about compliance and a continued decline in hospitalisations were among the topics discussed.

Dr Ronan Glynn and Professor Pete Lunn at this evening's NPHET briefing.
Dr Ronan Glynn and Professor Pete Lunn at this evening's NPHET briefing.
Image: Sasko Lazarov

PUBLIC HEALTH OFFICIALS this evening confirmed an additional 687 Covid-19 cases and one death.

This evening’s figures have brought the total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases to 220,273, and the death toll to 4,319. 

Here’s what was discussed at this evening’s briefing of the National Public Health Emergency Team.

Continued reduction in cases and hospitalisations

Professor Philip Nolan said that Covid-19 case numbers are continuing to decline, “albeit slowly”. 

Nolan said the continued decrease in hospital admissions is a “sign that we are coming to the end of this period of the pandemic” 

He outlined that hospital admissions have reduced from an average of 40 per day two weeks ago to an average of 25 admissions per day by today.

The number of intensive care admissions is also continuing to reduce. There were no ICU admissions in the past 24 hours, which was the first time this happened since December. 

Nolan said there continues to be a decrease of between 8-10% in case numbers each week. we do still seem to be seeing a decrease of 8,9,10% pre week in terms of case counts.

Behavioural data 

Professor Pete Lunn, the Head of the Behavioural Research Unit at the ESRI, presented data from a public opinion tracking survey and a new social activity measure.

This research showed that the vast majority (79%) of people believe that preventing the spread of Covid-19 is more important than the burden of restrictions. 

“There’s a big difference between how people are feeling and how they behave,” Lunn said. 

60% of people surveyed said it’s pretty tiresome to stick to the public health guidelines in place.

In terms of perceptions about compliance, Lunn said there is a “systematic misperception that other people are being more socially active than we are”. 

“We do know people actually do overstate their own level of compliance,” Lunn said, adding that people “understate the compliance of others”.

According to their research, more than 50% of people surveyed said they hadn’t met anyone outside their household in the last 48 hours. 

Around 21% of people met with three to six people, and fewer than 10% of people met with seven or more other people. 

Lunn said: “Even the people who are meeting three to six people over a 48 hour period think they are meeting fewer than average. They think other people are more socially active than they are.”

Protest

Dr Ronan Glynn commented on Saturday’s protest in Dublin, saying the vast majority of people are compliant with restrictions. 

“For those who are frustrated, I’d asked them to reflect on what the population has done and to look at the country as a whole has done over the last year, and come in behind that and be proud of what the country has done in the year, rather than focusing on the negativity, or the messaging of the minority,” he said.  

He added that there is a “silent majority” in this country who “are fed up, they’re annoyed, they do not want this pandemic to be going on a day longer”, but they’re sticking with the restrictions. 

He said people should remember this “when they see the actions of what is a very small minority of people”. 

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‘Stubborn’ case numbers

Dr Glynn said there is no single factor to explain why case numbers remain where they are. 

“The reality is, again, when people congregate it provides the virus an opportunity and with B.1.1.7 [the UK variant], it takes those opportunities more readily,” Glynn said. 

He said that there is no factor different from previously in the pandemic, adding that clusters are still linked to funerals, workplaces and extended family gatherings. 

Professor Philip Nolan said: “I don’t see the numbers as being stubbornly high. I see the numbers as being high.”

He said cases are continuing to reduce, but at a slower pace than they did five or six weeks ago. 

Schools

Ronan Glynn said the reopening of schools which began on a phased basis today will be monitored “very closely”.

“We know we will have cases, we will have clusters. I have no doubt that there will be ups and downs over the coming weeks,” Dr Glynn said. 

He said that parents should wear masks when dropping children to school. He also said the issue of whether younger children should wear masks in schools will be discussed at a NPHET meeting this week. 

He said it’s “not formally recommended” for children under 13 to wear masks, but that “any child who wants to wear a mask shouldn’t be discouraged from doing so”. 

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