A record number of new Covid-19 cases has been reported by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) for the second day in a row.
A total of 1,205 cases were reported on Thursday following the reporting of 1,084 cases on Wednesday. A further three deaths of people with Covid-19 were also reported by Nphet on Thursday. This brings to 1,838 the total number of deaths related to the disease in the Republic.
Of Thursday’s cases 288 are in Dublin, 173 in Cork, 123 in Meath, 97 in Galway, 63 in Cavan and the remaining 461 cases are spread across all remaining counties.
As of 2pm, 241 Covid-19 patients are hospitalised, of which 29 are in intensive care units (ICU). There has been 24 additional hospitalisations in the past 24 hours.
The median age of cases is 34 years and 71 per cent are under 45 years of age.
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said there had been a significant further deterioration in the situation since last week. The national incidence of the disease is now 206.7 per 100,000 population.
“Cases notified over the past week have increased by 82 per cent compared with the previous seven days, from 3,514 to 6,382 cases.
“The positivity rate over the past 7 days is now 6.2 per cent and is continuing to increase.”
“The 14-day incidence in those aged 65 years and older has increased from 92.9 per 100,000 population on 7th October to 125 per 100,000 population on the 14th of October.
“The number of hospitalisations are increasing faster than the exponential growth modelling predicted. This indicates a rapidly deteriorating disease trajectory nationally,” he said.
Prof Philip Nolan, chair of the Nphet epidemiological modelling advisory group, said the reproduction number appeared to have increased and was now at 1.4 nationally. If current trends continue, by October 31st, the number of cases notified daily would be in the range of 1,800 - 2,500 cases with over 400 people in hospital, he forecast.
Eleven counties have a 14-day incidence over 300 per 100,000 population, and another 11 have an incidence over 200, Dr Holohan said.
Prof Nolan said there was little evidence of any improvement in the situation, and potentially an acceleration in cases, over the past week to 10 days.
He said the issue was “universal”. “In no one county is there an acceptable incidence of disease and in very few has it stabilised.”
While Dublin had stabilised last week, the number of cases there is growing again, he said.
The incidence of cases among 19- to 24-year olds is three times that among those aged between 25 and 34, according to Prof Nolan.
He also expressed “grave concern” about two- to three-fold increase in the disease among older people aged over 65.
Dr Holohan said the situation was worsening “beyond even what we proejcted a few weeks ago” and this was a matter of “grave concern”.
Nphet, which met to consider the situation on Thursday, has provided advice to Government, which officials declined to disclose in advance of consideration by Ministers.
Guidance is being drawn up on how bubbles might operate for households living with the current restrictions, officials said.
Level 4 ‘likely but not inevitable’
The latest figures come as Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris said it is "likely" but "not inevitable" the State will have to go to heightened Level 4 restrictions to contain the spread of coronavirus.
Mr Harris said he hoped that the “enhanced Level 3” measures would have an impact on the rising levels of transmissions.
The Government announced on Wednesday night a nationwide ban on visits to homes or gardens in almost all circumstances, except for providing care to children or elderly and vulnerable people.
It has also announced that Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal will move to Level 4 of the Government's Living with Covid plan from midnight on Thursday until November 10th.
Under Level 4, people should not have any visitors to their homes, the maximum number of attendees at a wedding is six, non-essential retail will close, and all non-essential workers are to work from home, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said as he announced the move on. He said construction and manufacturing will remain under the right conditions.
Under the new restrictions for the 23 Level 3 counties, people will be allowed to meet in groups of up to six people from up to two households in outdoor settings away from home and garden while maintaining social distancing - including for exercise and dining. The existing exemption which allows for Club Championship games to be played behind closed doors has been removed and sports teams will be told they cannot train unless social distancing can be observed.
Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal will move to Level 4 of the Government’s Living with Covid plan from midnight on Thursday until November 10th.
Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast on Thursday Mr Harris said he was very worried about the rising number of Covid-19 cases, but he was not “buying into” the idea that it was inevitable the country would have to go to Level 4. “We can get over this.”
If three specific measures were followed by everybody then Level 3 could work, Mr Harris said. The measures were for people to work from home; to curtail home visits and to wear face coverings.
Mr Harris said that if it was necessary the Government would take further measures, but he hoped that following the enhanced Level 3 measures would work.
Some hospitals are already using their intensive care surge capacity to cope with the recent spikes in cases in Covid-19, the HSE chief executive Paul Reid has said.
Cork University Hospital, Letterkenny and Cavan hospitals exceeded their normal ICU capacity in recent days.
Covid-19 hospital admissions increased by 62 per cent from October 6th when there was 142 patients in hospital last week to 230 this week.
On testing, Mr Reid has said that the health service can carry out the target of 100,000 Covid tests per week and had carried out 103,000 tests in the past week with 99,000 lab results completed in the same time period.
“We will always meet demand (for testing),” he told RTÉ radio’s News at One. More than 15,000 tests per day were being carried out, with the figure closer to 18,000 at present, he said.
Mr Reid said the growing numbers in nursing homes were also a cause for concern, but it would be impossible to “put a ring of steel” around nursing homes. It is up to the public to modify their behaviour, he said.
Dr Colm Henry, the chief clinical officer of the HSE, said on Newstalk Breakfast there was a surge plan in place, if necessary hospitals would curtail other activities, which can protect a surge of up to 350 critical care beds, beyond that “there would not be the same quality of service”.
He said the Border was not being used as a measure, focus was on communities and some communities were “right across the Border” and transmission in the community had to be broken.
Announcing the new restrictions on Wednesday, the Taoiseach said there were “concerns regarding the full application of Level 3” including people going into the workplace, slippage in retail and personal services, and people going to each others homes.
Mr Martin said “I know how difficult this is for everyone and I understand the deep frustration people feel”.
“We are on a journey with this virus and we have come to a difficult point in that journey,” Mr Martin said. He said the numbers of infections are “just too high”.
He said data from Northern Ireland is “hugely worrying” and that discussions with Stormont would continue in the coming days.