Coronavirus Ireland: 39 new cases and second death confirmed in the Republic

Chief medical officer urges people to reduce social activities as much as possible

Dr John Cuddihy, Dr Colm Henry, Dr Tony Holohan and Dr Ronan Glynn arrive for a media briefingat n the Department of Health.Photograph: Crispin Rodwell for the Irish Times

Dr John Cuddihy, Dr Colm Henry, Dr Tony Holohan and Dr Ronan Glynn arrive for a media briefingat n the Department of Health.Photograph: Crispin Rodwell for the Irish Times

 

A total of 129 cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed in the Republic, after 39 new cases were announced on Saturday evening, along with a second death in a patient who was infected with coronavirus.

The person who died, a male in the east of the country, had an underlying condition. Dr Tony Holohan, the chief medical officer, extended his condolences to the family and friends of this person.

The new cases are among 21 males and 10 females. Some 21 are associated with the east of the country, 13 the south, three in the north-west, and two in the west.

There are 163 cases on the island of Ireland after five new cases were confirmed in Northern Ireland on Saturday bringing the total number of cases there to 34.

Dr Holohan, delivered a strong warning about compliance with social distancing measures following anecdotal evidence that activity in pubs and restaurants would suggest recommendations are not being observed.

“There are a lot of anecdotal reports of busy restaurants and pubs. It’s important to get the message out. Listen to the message, take personal responsibility… reduce as much as possible social activity.”

He said while playgrounds were closed, in small numbers social experiences and exercise experiences for children may still be appropriate.

People should restrcit their activities outside the home to walks, which he encouraged for physical and mental health. He also emphasised that now is a good time for smokers to reconsider their habit, as some emerging evidence suggests a link between severe symptoms of the disease and smoking.

Higher level of disease

Dr Holohan told a press conference that the positive rate in testing is increasing, from two per cent to around three per cent, which suggests that while the higher number of cases is being driven by higher levels of testing, there are also higher levels of disease circulating.

Dr Ronan Glynn said that amid a huge number of calls to out of hours GP services and emergency numbers, such calls - especially to 999 and 112 - should be restricted to genuine emergencies, and not be made by symptomatic people who wish to be tested.

Testing

The Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) has advised that from Monday GPs wil be able to order the test electronically through their IT system. It also said the HSE will have enhanced capacity for testing from Monday.

On discretionary social activity, he said reducing it “means some of the kinds of activities we traditionally enjoy in pubs and restaurants,” although he said there are restaurants that have changed arrangements to allow for social distancing. He said it was particularly important that message be circulated among young adults.

On testing, Dr Cillian De Gascun said in a busy flu season stretching to 32 weeks, around 20,000 tests would be done, or around 600 per week. Last weekend, the National Virus Reference Laboratory, which he heads up, was testing 600 per day.

He said they will be prioritising hospitalised patients for testing as the case definition - which determines who is eligible for testing - expands, and the testing rolls out into new centres beyond the NVRL. Some of the new cases are healthcare workers, but there was no precise figure disclosed.

It is anticipated that the turnaround times for hospitalised cases will be in the 12-24 hour timeframe. Those being tested in the community can expect to see results within a 2-4 day timeframe. It is expected that the positive rate of tests will climb from its current level to something closer representing positive tests in suspected cases of normal flu, which can be more than 40 per cent. “We expect to see the percentage of positive tests rise well north of where it is now,” Dr Holohan said.

Ventilator capacity

There is no capacity problem with ventilators in the country at the moment, and there is substantial planning to increase the numbers of staff, beds and ventilators available, the briefing heard.

The medics strongly emphasised that travel should be kept to a minimum. People in vulnerable groups, Dr Holohan said, are not compatible with flying. For those not in a vulnerable group, it’s hard to see how you would travel for leisure reasons and maintain the advice being given for social distancing, he said. “For the most part, travel, as an exercise, is something you should avoid.”

Asked about UK guidelines that people should self-isolate only for seven days, Dr De Gascun strongly defended Ireland’s recommended 14 day timeframe, which he said was based on WHO data gleaned from 72,000 cases in China. “The UK has had fewer than 500 cases, and they’ve gone with their own guidance, I’m not sure what number they’re looking at.”

The Department of Health, Dr Holohan said, is working with behavioural science experts and companies to analyse behaviour and compliance with recommendations. He said that while he was walking to work in the morning, he saw good compliance, but while returning in the evening, he saw poor compliance in “certain establishments”.

Asked about Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster’s comments that once schools in Northern Ireland close, they will remain closed for 16 weeks, he said that there was no decision made on lifting containment measures on March 29th, and that they would constantly be kept under review.

There are currently 142,538 globally confirmed cases, with 61,517 outside China. In Europe, Italy has the most with 17,660 followed by Spain (4,231), France (3,640), Germany (3,062) and Switzerland (1,125).