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third wave

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

Ireland is in a “serious phase” of its current surge, according to the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET).

Screenshot 2021-01-08 at 14.51.05 - Display 2 Department of Health Department of Health

IRELAND’S THIRD WAVE may have peaked. 

But over the coming weeks it will be our health service that bears the brunt of this recent surge as hospitalisations and ICU admissions increase. 

With almost 20,000 new cases reported across Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, the total is more than 300% higher than the previous week. 

Ireland is in a “serious phase” of its current surge, according to the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET).

There is increasing evidence of the UK variant in Ireland. Every county has seen its incidence rise.

Ireland’s national incidence rate is 936.4 cases per 100,000 of the population on a 14-day rolling average, according to data from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre – compared to 296.7 on this day last week and 166.0 the week previous.

Ireland’s reproductive number is estimated at between 2.4 and 3 with a growth rate of 12-14% per day. 

So, what does that mean?

There is the basic reproduction number (R0), which is the number of people who will be infected if no other factors are taken into account.

Then there is the effective reproductive number (Re) - the number of people who will be infected if you take into account other factors, such as immunity through previous infection or vaccination or behaviour which has been altered by social distancing measures.

It is estimated that SARS-CoV-2 has an R0 of between 2 and 3. NPHET estimates the Re was now between 2.4 and 3 in Ireland, essentially meaning that the virus spread as if no measures were in place seven to 14 days ago.

There are, however, early signs that Level 5 restrictions are working but “we have a considerable way to go”, according to Professor Philip Nolan, Chair of NPHET’s Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group.

“We’re still in a situation where one needs to be gravely concerned about where we’re going over the next three to four weeks,” Professor Nolan said.

There is now evidence the UK variant accounts for an estimated 21%-30% of Covid-19 cases in Ireland. That is “playing a role in the high Reproduction Number”, said Professor Nolan. 

Meanwhile, an IT issue that lead to a delay in reporting daily cases has been resolved, NPHET said last night. Positive test results reported in laboratories each day should, more or less, match daily case counts from now on. 

A pessimistic model of Ireland’s current trajectory says that cases could rise to 8,500 per day next week.

However, the number of positive tests per day at present shows we are at about 6,000 cases per day on average, and decreasing. 

Looking at 14-day incidence rates in individual counties, Monaghan has the highest incidence of Covid-19 in Ireland at 1,819.6 cases per 100,000. 

Louth is the second-highest county in Ireland with a 14-day incidence rate of 1,637.1. Limerick is third-highest with a 14-day incidence rate of 1399.2. 

Looking at Local Electoral Area data, Belmullet in Mayo has the highest individual incidence of Covid-19 at 2,111.0 cases per 100,000 – or 1 in 50 people. 

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

Counties with the lowest incidence rates include Wicklow (471.1), Tipperary (487.0) and Leitrim (505.6). 

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

Testing & Tracing 

Testing has ramped up to almost 25,000 per day. 

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

Although testing is at its highest level, 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 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%. 

As of 8am today, approximately 174,228 tests had been carried out in the past seven days. The positivity rate is now 22.7%. 

Community testing is even higher with a positivity rate of 27.4%, NPHET confirmed last night. 

On Monday, the HSE did a record 7,500 calls to Covid-19-positive cases.

Hospital & ICU

There have been 104 hospital admissions in the last 24 hours and 58 discharges. 

There are – as of this morning – 1,151 confirmed Covid-19 cases in hospital and 109 people in Intensive Care Units.

The previous peak was in mid-April when 881 people were in hospital. The number of ICU cases has more than doubled since last week. 

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The health system is under enormous strain. 

Speaking this week, HSE Chief Clinical Officer said – in an optimistic scenario – there will be 1,500 Covid-19 patients in hospital by mid-January. 

The worst-case scenario could see 2,500 people in hospital by mid-January and 400 people in ICU. 

About 3,000 healthcare workers are currently unavailable due to being infected or close contacts of confirmed cases. 

The Government is putting in place final agreements with private hospitals to aid during Ireland’s surge. 


Finally, more than 15,300 people have been vaccinated – a figure which should more than double by next week if Ireland’s rollout goes to plan. 

Over 40,000 doses were received by the HSE this week with 27,300 delivered. 

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) this week gave the green light to the second Covid-19 vaccine for Europe.

Screenshot 2021-01-08 at 14.33.01 - Display 2 HSE HSE

It also struck a deal to double its supply of BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine against Covid-19 to a total of 600 million doses, which should help Ireland’s vaccine supply. 

Chair of Ireland’s High-Level Task Force on Covid-19 Vaccination Professor Brian MacCraith said today that one million people could be vaccinated by June. 


In this week’s episode of The Explainer, we take a look at what happened over Christmas, what restrictions are now in place and how Ireland is doing during its third wave. 

The Explainer / SoundCloud

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