Coronavirus: Close contact numbers fall in sign restrictions may be working

Newly infected ‘annoyed’ HSE contact tracers skipped calls to them due to backlog

The reduction in close contacts will help ease pressure on the State’s contact tracing operation. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

The reduction in close contacts will help ease pressure on the State’s contact tracing operation. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

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In an early sign that public Covid-19 restrictions may be working, the HSE has seen a sharp drop in the average number of close contacts of individuals becoming infected over recent days.

HSE data, obtained by The Irish Times, shows that the average number of contacts that a positive case has reported after testing positive has fallen to an average of three from five last week and six at the start of this month.

The decline in the number of close contacts of newly infected cases, while a tentative sign, shows the possible impact of public restrictions, escalated this week, on the transmission of the disease.

The reduction in close contacts will help ease pressure on the State’s contact tracing operation.

The Irish Times reported on Tuesday that the HSE’s contact tracing was overwhelmed last weekend by a surge in cases. This forced tracers to skip calls to close contacts of about 2,000 Covid-19 cases to avoid a backlog and days-long delays in calling new daily cases this week for their contacts.

Texts

Rather than trace the contacts of these 2,000 cases, the HSE sent them texts on Wednesday asking them to do their own contact tracing .

It has since emerged that some close contacts of positive cases who were not called by contact tracers due to the backlog have themselves since tested positive and expressed anger to contact tracers who have called them.

Some newly infected people were said to be “very annoyed” at not being called as close contacts of last weekend’s cases when they were contacted as part of this week’s new cases.

There is anger and frustration within the contact tracing operation at the reputational damage caused by the decision, leading to more difficult calls for contact tracers trying to convince people to be tested and to isolate.

“’The collateral damage from that decision is just dreadful,” said one source.

Questions have been raised internally at the decision to text and not call complex new cases who may not be able to carry out their own contact tracing . Such cases could be sick people or foreign nationals working in meat plants or living in direct provision centres, or people who had been at parties or family celebrations .

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) reported a further seven deaths related to Covid-19 on Friday and a further 777 cases confirmed in the State.

Five-day average

The five-day average of new cases fell for the second consecutive day for the first time in weeks.

One of the main labs used to process Covid-19 tests has said it will be unable to operate this weekend and next due to “unavoidable staff shortages” as a result of a small number of coronavirus cases among lab staff. The shortfall in testing will be covered by Enfer, the private testing lab in Naas, Co Kildare.

Meanwhile, the Minister for Agriculture, Charlie McConalogue, on Friday night said his department should have issued a public notice about the problems with Virapro hand sanitiser a week ago when a formal notice was issued to the manufacturer. Some of it was found to contain methanol and not the 70 per cent required level of ethanol. Schools were only alerted to the recall late on Thursday night and a number were forced to close on Friday.

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