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What does this week's Covid-19 data tell us about Ireland's third wave?

Dr Tony Holohan said this week “we are seeing early signs of progress” but said we should expect hospitalisations, ICU admissions and deaths to increase “day on day”.

Updated Jan 14th 2021, 7:15 PM

Screenshot 2021-01-14 at 14.44.15 - Display 2 (1) Source: Department of Health

DEATHS ARE INCREASING. 

Ireland’s third wave of Covid-19 infection may have peaked last week. However, with 208 deaths so far this month and 417 hospitalisations since Sunday, our health service will continue to bear the brunt of the recent surge. 

Over 11,000 new cases were confirmed on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday – compared to more than 19,000 new cases reported over the same period last week. 

A total of 3,955 new cases of Covid-19 were confirmed this evening. 

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said this week “we are seeing early signs of progress” but that we should expect hospitalisations, ICU admissions and deaths to increase “day on day”. 

Ireland’s national incidence rate is 1497.0 cases per 100,000 of the population on a 14-day rolling average, according to data from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre – compared to 936.4 on this day last week and 296.7 the week previous.

It may appear our incidence is climbing as cases reduce. However, people who contracted Covid-19 over Christmas were not confirmed as positive until several days later. As a result of this backlog in people being tested and cases then being confirmed, our 14-day incidence rate is skewed.

Professor Philip Nolan, Chair of NPHET’s Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group said this evening that despite Ireland’s growth rate decreasing and the number of close contacts dropping to an average of 2.3 per case “there is a long road to go.”

UK variant

The evidence now suggests that the UK variant accounts for an estimated 45.7% of cases detected in Ireland. 

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Dr Cillian De Gascun, Medical Virologist and Director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory, said that 94 positive cases sampled for the UK variant so far are mainly in the East and Midlands.

Despite this relatively small sample size, it is a “decent indication” of the level of the variant, he said. 

“They’re the limitations of the data but we have a consistent pattern,” said De Gascun. “What we’ve seen in the UK…is that generally speaking these viruses take a bit of time to grow up to a certain proportion.”

De Gascun said that despite small sample sizes “it fits with what we’d expect of a [variant] with this growth rate and level of transmissibility.”

Looking at 14-day incidence rates in individual counties, Monaghan has the highest incidence of Covid-19 in Ireland at 2793.8 cases per 100,000. 

Louth is the second-highest county in Ireland with a 14-day incidence rate of 2461.9. Limerick is third-highest with a 14-day incidence rate of 2085.7.

Looking at Local Electoral Area data, Belmullet in Mayo remains the highest individual incidence of Covid-19 at 6031.7 cases per 100,000. 

For a breakdown of incidence rates in LEAs around Ireland, see here

Counties with the lowest incidence rates include Leitrim (724.0), Wicklow (766.0) and Westmeath (772.8).

Ireland’s growth rate is currently the highest in Europe.

Screenshot 2021-01-14 at 14.01.14 - Display 2 Source: Our World In Data

Testing & Tracing 

Testing had ramped up to almost 25,000 per day last week, and has slightly reduced to an average of 23,000 per day this week. 

A lag over Christmas resulted in a spike in demand for tests from 27 December onwards.

Although testing is close to its highest level yet, it is still being curtailed by demand. Close contacts of confirmed cases are no longer being tested as the HSE prioritises people with symptoms.

On 17 December, approximately 83,000 tests were carried out over the previous seven days, an indication that incidence was rising in the lead-up to Christmas. The positivity rate had risen to 3.2%. 

Last Thursday, approximately 174,000 tests had been carried out in the past seven days. The positivity rate was 22.7%. 

Approximately 167,000 tests have been carried out in the past seven days. The positivity rate has now reduced to 17.9%. 

Hospital & ICU

There have been 149 hospital admissions in the last 24 hours and 128 discharges. 

There are – as of this morning – 1,789 confirmed Covid-19 cases in hospital and 169 people in Intensive Care Units.

That is an increase of 59% in hospital admissions since this day last week and a 64% increase in ICU admissions. 

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The previous peak for hospitalisations was in mid-April when 881 people were in hospital. This week saw that figure more than to double to 1,838. 

Screenshot 2021-01-14 at 14.21.37 - Display 2 Source: Department of Health

The health system is under increasing strain. 

More than 7,000 HSE staff are absent across hospitals, nursing homes, home support services and community services. This is due to either being infected with Covid-19 or being a close contact of a confirmed case.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Association (INMO) has said the healthcare system is overloaded and is calling for “urgent government intervention”.

It called for the level of PPE in healthcare settings to be upgraded to FFP2 masks, which filter at least 94% of airborne particles. 

HSE CEO Paul Reid said today hospital admissions are growing at a “concerning rate” and that the current situation is “quite grim”. 

The worst-case scenario, according to NPHET could see 2,500 people in hospital by mid-January and 400 people in ICU by the end of this week. 

Vaccinations 

Finally, more than 77,000 people have received their first vaccination dose.

A total of 152,100 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine have arrived in Ireland as well 3,600 doses of the Moderna vaccine. 

The Government expects AstraZeneca’s vaccine to be approved by the EMA on 29 January, paving the way for 100,000 vaccinations per week in Ireland. 

ErsuA9oVEAQb1Lg Source: HSE

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly told the Dáil yesterday that the Government plans to have 700,000 people vaccinated by the end of March.

This would include priority groups – those in long-term residential care, both staff and residents, frontline healthcare workers, and those aged over 70.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said the HSE will be collating figures for the number of vaccinations each week, which will be published online. 

“I understand there’s a desire to put out and make available information on a daily basis. I’m not in a position to give a precise update on the timing of that…but the more information we can get on all metrics of the disease the better.”

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