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Sunday 4 June 2023 Dublin: 18°C
Leah Farrell/
# widespread
CMO: Up to 500,000 people in Ireland were likely infected with Covid-19 last week
The scale of infection estimated has been accelerated by the spread of the Omicron variant.

CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER Dr. Tony Holohan has told the government that up to 10% of the population, some 500,000 people, may have had Covid-19 last week. 

The estimate is contained in a 6 January letter from Holohan to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly and is based on the incidence of the virus in the population and “constraints on testing”. 

The letter records that there were 136,960 reported cases in the week to 5 January 2022, giving rise to a 14-day incidence rate that is 4,450 per 100,000. The highest ever incidence rate and almost three times higher than in January 2021. 

“Given the 7-day cumulative incidence of 2,876 per 100,000, allowing for constraints on testing and undetected infections, the likely population prevalence of active SARS-CoV-2 infection is 5.7%- 9.6%; between 1 in 10 and 1 in 20 of the population are likely to be infected,” Holohan says.  

The letter records that positivity rates for testing was above 60% for the week and that the test and trace system was “at surge capacity and under severe pressure”.

The scale of infection estimated has been accelerated by the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, which NPHET estimates accounts for 96% of new cases. 

Europe is now the epicentre of the Omicron variant, with the World Health Organisation saying today that over half of the people in Europe are projected to catch Omicron by March.  


Holohan says in his letter that the overall Covid-19 situation “continues to give rise for concern” but that there are “initial positive indications in terms of markers of disease”.  

NPHET’s decision following it meeting on 6 January not to recommend any additional restrictions was also reflected in the letter:  

NPHET agreed, therefore, with the exception of those outlined below, that the measures the government has put in place until 30 January should be maintained until that date, and that no additional measures are indicated at this time.

The letter says that a report on hospital admissions will be prepared before NPHET’s next meeting on 20 January.  

The CMO notes that the number of new cases in hospitals “are high and increasing” but that the numbers in ICU and those requiring ventilation have “remained relatively stable”. 

Holohan notes that the incidence of Covid-19 hasn’t yet translated to “increased critical care admissions or mortality” and that this can be attributed to:

Potential contributory factors include the age profile of recent cases, the protection conferred by immunity (both vaccine induced and natural) in preventing or delaying progression to severe disease, and lower intrinsic virulence of Omicron compared with previous variants.

Speaking to The Journal last week, Professor Ross Morgan, Consultant in Respiratory Medicine at Beaumont Hospital, said the “data is not quite mature enough yet” to determine Omicron’s effect on hospital admissions.

Morgan said “nobody in Ireland is hospitalised with mild anything” and he outlined three broad categories of Covid patients in Irish hospitals: unvaccinated patients, vaccinated individuals who suffer a complication due to the virus, such as a blood clot condition, and vaccinated people who have an underlying medical condition that leaves them immunocompromised. 


Holohan’s letter notes that deaths from Covid-19 “remain stable”, with 157 deaths in December notified up to 5 January, following 230 deaths in November and 217 deaths in October.

The letter cautions that the notification of deaths may have been delayed over the Christmas period

Holohan notes that “Covid-19 mortality has remained relatively stable” but that a recent increase in outbreaks in settings with vulnerable people “was being closely monitored”. 

In the letter, Holohan also recommends clearer advice that medical and respirator masks ‘offer greater protection’.

- With reporting by Céimin Burke

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