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What does this week's Covid-19 data tell us as we prepare to leave Level 5?

Ireland’s national incidence rate has dropped by 22% in the past 14 days.

Updated Nov 27th 2020, 11:30 AM

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As the Government finalises its plan for Christmas – and what level of restrictions will be implemented – Public Health officials continue to voice concerns about society reopening too quickly after Level 5. 

The Government has indicated that a phased approach to easing restrictions and reopening society will be taken in the lead-up to Christmas. 

Non-essential retail, hairdressers and museums are set to open from next Wednesday. Restaurants are expected to be allowed reopen from 7 December. No firm decision has been made regarding visitors over Christmas. 

A full Cabinet meeting is due to take place today with a nationwide address from Taoiseach Micheál Martin expected at around 6pm. 

The National Public Health Emergency Team sent its advice to Government yesterday for consideration. 

Speaking at a NPHET briefing on Monday evening, Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan was asked if this week’s decision would be one of the toughest his team has had to make.

He replied: “It is never easy… it has implications for people… how they live their lives, the economy and people have been out of work for long periods of time.”

“It isn’t straightforward for anybody,” said Holohan. “So I think it’s for the people who are impacted directly by these, we have to be most concerned about – as opposed to us as officials.” 

So, what does the latest Covid-19 data tell us about our efforts to suppress the virus exiting Level 5? 

Health officials on Thursday evening confirmed a further 335 cases of Covid-19 and three more deaths. 

A total of 269 new cases were confirmed on Wednesday and 226 new cases were confirmed on Tuesday

That is a total of 830 cases compared to 1,174 cases over the same period last week and 1,027 cases the week previously. 

Ireland’s reproductive number last week was estimated at between 0.7 and 0.9 having been at 0.6 the previous week. It’s still estimated at between 0.7 and 0.9. 

Ireland’s national incidence rate is 105.5 cases per 100,000 of the population on a 14-day rolling average, according to data from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre – compared to 116.5 on this day last week and 135.5 the week previous.

That is a 22% drop in the past 14 days. While that is encouraging, it is significantly lower than the 45% drop we saw in the 14 days up to last Thursday. 

The incidence rate had also dropped by more than 50% between 30 October and 13 November, a further indication that Ireland’s rate of decline has continued to slow this week. 

Screenshot 2020-11-26 at 15.18.56 - Display 2 (1) Source: HPSC

Looking at the incidence rate in individual counties, these spiked in October, then started decreasing, and had reduced even further in the 14 days up to last Friday morning.

We noted last week that the 14-day incidence rate in some counties was once again rising, but it has since decreased in line with case numbers. 

Donegal – although still the county with the highest incidence of Covid-19 – has seen its 14-day incidence rate drop from 264.5 cases per 100,000 last Friday to 224.4 today. 

Compare this 15% drop since last Thursday to the 6% drop noted last week and it seems the county is on the right track exiting Level 5. 

Louth is the second-highest in Ireland with a 14-day incidence rate of 208.7 cases per 100,000 – compared to 175.4 cases last Thursday – an increase of 15% in on week. 

Limerick had seen a 12% increase in its 14-day average last week from the previous week but has since dropped back down to 188.8 cases per 100,000 – a 15% decrease since last week. 

It was reported last Friday that Waterford had seen a significant increase – 25% – in its incidence rate since 12 November. 

However, the county has dropped to a 14-day incidence rate of 140.3 cases per 100,000 – a 9% decrease in the last seven days. 

Ireland’s rate of Covid-19 decline is slow, prompting health officials to raise concerns as society readies to reopen next week. 

river (22) Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan Source: RollingNews.ie

Counties with the lowest incidence rates include Wexford (37.4), Kerry (52.8) and Laois (54.3), with Kerry and Laois seeing a reduction in 14-day incidence rate of between 39% and 43% over the last seven days. 

By comparison to Europe, Ireland’s 14-day incidence rate is lower than France (454.4), Spain (399.2), the United Kingdom (450.6) and Italy (749.6), according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). 

It is worth nothing that all five of these European countries have reduced their 14-day incidence rate by between 9.3% and 41% in the past seven days. 

The above countries, including Ireland, are still considerably lower than both Austria, which has a 14-day incidence rate of 988.3 and Luxembourg, which has a 14-day incidence rate of 1266.3 per 100,000. 

Screenshot 2020-11-26 at 14.40.01 - Display 2 Source: ECDC

Testing & Tracing

Approximately 116,000 tests were carried out over the 7 days up to Thursday 22 October when Ireland entered Level 5. The positivity rate then was 6.9%. 

Approximately 103,000 tests were carried out in the 7 days up to 29 October with 88,547 tests have been carried in the seven days up to Thursday 5 November. 

Three weeks into Level 5, 77,718 tests had been carried in the seven days up to 12 November with 77,292 tests having been carried out up to 19 November. 

Approximately 77,805 tests have been carried out in the last seven days. 

So, while the number of tests had dropped by 33% between Level 5 kicking in and the halfway point on 12 November, the number of tests each week has remained static at around 77,000.

The positivity rate – which had increased to 3.8% last week – is now back down to 2.7%, the lowest point yet during Level 5. 

Hospital & ICU

There have been 20 hospital admissions in the last 24 hours and 14 discharges. 

There are – as of this morning – 253 confirmed Covid-19 cases in hospitals and 35 people in Intensive Care Units.

Last Thursday, there were 290 hospitalised cases of Covid-19 and 32 people in ICU. 

As seen in the graph below, ICU cases peaked between Saturday 1 November and Monday 3 November, fell back down to the lowest point since 28 October on 4 October, rose again this week but have since declined. 

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Screenshot 2020-11-26 at 15.01.55 - Display 2 Source: Department of Health

Clusters & Outbreaks

Outbreaks in schools have increased over the last four weeks and have continued to rise over the past two weeks. 

There were 19 outbreaks reported by the HPSC up to Saturday. There were 10 outbreaks reported in the 7 days beforehand and 24 outbreaks reported in the seven days before that. 

The HPSC notes, however: “These outbreaks are outbreaks associated with school children +/or school staff. Transmission of Covid-19 within the school has not necessarily been established in these outbreaks.” 

Screenshot 2020-11-26 at 15.31.20 - Display 2 Source: HPSC

The total number of outbreaks since the start of the pandemic is 9,062. Of these, 5,639 remain “open” according to the HPSC’s recent data.

For an outbreak to be considered “closed”, there must be 28 days from the last case diagnosed or becoming symptomatic.

There were 652 new outbreaks in private homes up to last Saturday – a decrease of 302 or 31% – from the previous week bringing to 6,869 the total number of outbreaks in this setting since the pandemic reached Ireland.

Of these, 4,815 remain open.

There has also been a further 20 outbreaks in workplace settings, bringing to 40 the number of outbreaks in this setting between 7 and 21 November. 

Finally, there have been 5 new outbreaks in nursing homes – 48 outbreaks in nursing homes remain “open”.

Overall, taking in every setting this week, outbreaks had increased by 45% between 7 November and 14 November. 

Between 14 November and last Saturday, the number of outbreaks across all settings had decreased by 26%. 

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