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'Any increase in social mixing is incredibly risky': The key points you need to know from today's NPHET briefing

New research suggests there has been a “substantial increase” in social visits to homes.

Professor Philip Nolan at this evening's briefing.
Professor Philip Nolan at this evening's briefing.
Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

PUBLIC HEALTH OFFICIALS have today confirmed 411 new cases of Covid-19 in Ireland.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) also reported six deaths of patients with the disease, all of which occurred in March.

The death toll from Covid-19 in Ireland is now 4,687, and the total number of confirmed cases is now at 235,854.

The new variant has changed everything

Professor Philip Nolan, chair of the epidemiological modelling advisory group said we need to take into account the B.1.1.7 variant and how easily that transmits.

The reproduction number is currently estimated at between 1.0 and 1.3. 

He said if Ireland did not have the B.1.1.7 variant, the current measures for this length of time would probably have driven the R number down to 0.8

If the R number increased to 1.5, Nolan this could result in an additional 200,000 cases between 5 April and the end of September.

“Any increase in social mixing right now is incredibly risky,” he said. “But delaying eight weeks hugely attenuates that risk and will make a huge difference to us as a population. And it goes further than that, because as we vaccinate, cases don’t translate into deaths and hospitalisations in the same way as they do without vaccination.”

Professor Nolan said a delay of four to eight weeks in mixing would greatly reduce case numbers and hospitalisation numbers and the vaccination programme will begin more rapidly providing protection as greater supplies come into the country.

“In the course of May, June and July very very quickly indeed a huge swathe of the population receives their first dose, their second dose and becomes protected,” he said.

“If you think about, right now it’s all of our individual behaviour or efforts that are interrupting transmission of the virus. And that’s hard, we’re finding it really difficult, if you think about how it feels now.

“At the point when half the adult population are effectively protected by vaccination – and that will happen at some point in the course of the summer – it will only feel half as hard, we’re only gonna have to work half as hard to achieve the same level of suppression of the virus.”

Cases in mandatory hotel quarantine

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Glynn confirmed that there have been “two or three” positive cases reported today in mandatory hotel quarantine facilities. He said he did not have any further information on the cases.

Keep it outdoors

The message from public health officials remains that people should keep their social contacts down as much as possible. Dr Glynn said those planning to meet others in the coming days should do it outdoors and in public areas like parks. He advised people to wear a mask if it is a crowded outdoor space.

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Dr Glynn said we can and should be optimistic for an enjoyable summer but in the meantime we have to “continue to work together to prevent a further wave of infection as we accelerate vaccination across society”.

Professor Pete Lunn of the ESRI presented details of a survey which indicated there has been a “substantial increase” in home visits in Ireland that are for social purposes. He said there has been a “clear slippage” in adherence to restrictions.

The survey results indicate as many as 250,000 adults in Ireland every day are mixing in a home.

“At most of those meetings there are no masks involved, a lot of those meetings last more than an hour and in most cases people report it is not possible to completely maintain two metres social distance,” he said.

“We would see that as being the largest and most important behaviour change that we have recorded over the last period.” 

 

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