Coronavirus: Nphet flags ‘significant risk’ to health service

Infections up across most regions and age groups, with large outbreaks in some counties

There were 464 patients with Covid-19 in hospital on Wednesday morning, including 86 in intensive care. File photograph: The Irish Times

The future trajectory of Covid-19 in Ireland remains very uncertain and there is a "significant risk" to the operation of the health service, a National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) briefing has heard.

Case numbers are increasing across nearly all regions and age groups, with some large outbreaks in some counties, officials said.

However, there is "no single silver bullet solution" for driving down the rise in daily case numbers, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan told the briefing.

Nphet official Prof Philip Nolan expressed concern that both demand for testing and the positivity rate is increasing.


More than 15,000 tests per day are going through public health labs, he said, and close to 5,000 a day through hospital labs.

While Covid-related deaths have been stable for the past six weeks, Prof Nolan said he expected these to increase in the weeks to come.

Nphet’s model forecasts 800-1,000 Covid-19 patients in hospital by late November, including 150-200 in intensive care.

The pandemic is growing again, at a rate of 2-3 per cent for case numbers and hospitalisations, said Prof Nolan.

Over the last 24 hours, 14 people were admitted to intensive care (ICU), bringing to 86 the number of people in ICU.

He said there had been a slow increase in the number in ICU from 60 four weeks ago to 74 on average over the last week.

Case counts have continued to grow, with the seven-day moving average increased from about 1,100 coming into October to 1,889 today.

The numbers in hospital have increased from just under 300 people in hospital four weeks ago to 464 today.

Prof Nolan said the number of admissions per day to hospital have increased from 40 at the beginning of the month to on average 57 people per day being admitted.

Dr Holohan said disease incidence was now “high and increasing across the country and across all age groups,” although vaccination has helped to prevent many serious illnesses and deaths.

People’s collective commitment to basic protective measure needs to be “reviewed and enhanced”.

Dr Holohan said there is a “worrying and concerning” rise in cases, hospital admissions and those in intensive care and unfortunately he would expect a rise in the number of deaths due to the change in transmission? He said there were still 350,000 adults who “should” be vaccinated. One-in-five 18- to 30-year-olds, and two-in-five 12- to 15-year-olds, are not vaccinated, he added.

Dr Holohan expressed concern about a lack of checks for Covid passes on travellers coming into Ireland.

When he came through Dublin Airport recently, his certificate was not checked, although it was at the other end, he said.

Dr Holohan said there was no “single silver bullet” that stops the current rise; instead a collection of familiar protective measures was needed. Older people should minimise their discretionary social contacts, he advised.

Prof Nolan attributed this latest rise in cases to a set of changes in public behaviour, many of them made in anticipation of the easing of restrictions earlier in the autumn.

‘Freeze the country’

Attempting to explain why cases are high and rising, Dr Nolan said the Delta variant arrived in Ireland as the vaccination programme was being rolled out. Its impact at the time was to “freeze the country where it was”.

“Where we are now is path-dependent, on where we were, and on Delta.”

A second factor was increased social contact, which gave the virus a chance to transmit more easily. This was evident from the separate rise in cases of the norovirus (winter vomiting bug) over the period.

There have been a further 2,148 confirmed cases of the disease, the Health Protection Surveillance Centre reported on Wednesday.

A total of 63 deaths of people with Covid-19 occurred in the past week, bringing the total number of deaths to 5,369. There were 155 deaths in September and there have been 72 deaths so far in October.

The 14-day incidence has risen above the 500 mark, to 518 cases per 100,000 people.

There were 464 patients with Covid-19 in hospital on Wednesday morning, including 86 in ICU.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.