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Henry Street in Dublin. Leah Farrell/
On the rise

Covid-19: What do the stats say about why people are being asked to reduce social contacts?

Last week there were almost 25,000 cases recorded.

“VERY HIGH AND increasing” is how NPHET has summed up the prevalence of Covid-19 in Ireland right now. 

The spread of the virus in this country currently outstrips all but seven of our European counterparts, with Ireland’s exceptionally high vaccination rate the reason why more restrictions are “not expected” here when they are being considered elsewhere. 

The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) met yesterday, a day after it had given a clear assessment of how widespread the virus is in the community. 

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan made his most pressing request of this current wave that people reduce their social contacts in order to reduce the spread of the virus. 

Whereas in previous weeks this had been a general request, Holohan offered the “practical advice” that people consider their planned meetups and cut them in half

This advice from the CMO is different to earlier in the pandemic when the government directed people to meet up in groups of a certain size. 

In this case, Ireland’s most senior public health doctor was essentially giving advice in the way any doctor would: NPHET is considering what is best for people’s health.

So considering that intervention, The Journal has taken a look at where we are with case numbers, incidence rates and hospitalisations. 

One of the headline figures is that last week, Ireland recorded 24,995 new cases of Covid-19, the third-highest number of weekly cases since the beginning of the pandemic.

Unsurprisingly, the only two weeks that eclipsed last week’s figure were during the peak of the third wave, namely back in January in the first two weeks of 2021. 

Big cumulative weekly numbers have been building in recent weeks but the acceleration is stark, with average daily cases now at 3,487 and double what they were only two weeks ago. 

What this means is a nationwide 14-day incidence of 952 cases per 100,000 people

Broken down by county, the 14-day incidence rate exceeds 1,000 in eight different counties, with Leitrim the highest at 1426.2 followed by Waterford at 1307.5

The others are Carlow, Laois, Longford, Louth, Westmeath, Donegal, Cork and Kerry.

Monaghan has the lowest 14-day incidence rate of 669.2, with Dublin the closest county to the national average at 938.5

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Age groups

Among the primary concerns in the past number of weeks has been the rising incidence of the virus across various age groups, whereas a number of months ago the growth in cases was more clearly concentrated in younger age groups. 

Data from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) for the most recent two-week period shows that people aged 65 and over represented 9.4% of new cases, and 49.4% of  cases that were hospitalised. 

By comparison, cases among people aged under 25 represented 34.9% of new cases and 9.5% of cases in hospital. 

Speaking on Wednesday, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn said there has been a “significant increase in incidence across almost all age groups” in the past two weeks. 

The highest incidence is among people aged 19-24, where there are an average of 136.7 cases per day per 100,000 people. Incidence in that age group has in fact doubled in a week and tripled over the past two weeks. 

Glynn’s mention of “almost all groups” is worth focusing on because it references the fact the only age group where a previously rising incidence has recently been reversed is the one in which the booster programme has begun. 

The below table shows incidence rates by age group during the 4th wave and you can see in the dark green line that incidence in the over 85 age group started to decline again three weeks ago.


Hospital & ICU

After a stabilisation in hospital numbers last week, there has been an increase again more recently. As of yesterday morning there were 543 patients with Covid-19 in hospital, up from 458 the week previous. 

In terms of ICU numbers, 97 people were in ICU yesterday compared to 90 a week ago. 

At a briefing last week, the HSE said 52% of those who were then in ICU were unvaccinated, with 42% fully vaccinated.  

Overall, between 1 April this year and 30 October, 507 people were admitted to ICU with a Covid-19 infection. Of those 507, 326 (64%) were unvaccinated

In terms of hospitalisations, NPHET has said that there are an average of about 57-60 admissions per day in hospital, with over 60% of those hospitalised having an underlying condition. 

Hospitalised cases also include people who have been admitted to hospital with other conditions and have tested positive for Covid-19, with the positivity rate for tests conducted in hospital labs currently at 6%

Hospital-based testing accounts for about a quarter of the total number of tests carried out, with total tests across public health labs and hospital labs in recent days surpassing 30,000

The wider community positivity rate for people who present to the HSE seeking a PCR test is now over 17% having maintained a steady rise in the past two months. 

Health experts briefed officials this week that on Thursday, there were 243 new patients admitted over the past 72 hrs – 141 admitted for Covid, while 102 were people who were detected as positive after admission for another ailment.

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