Coronavirus: Three further deaths and 1,066 cases reported in Republic

Risk of being exposed to Covid-19 100 times greater than four months ago, says health official

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan with deputy chief medical officer Dr Heather Burns. Photograph: Collins

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan with deputy chief medical officer Dr Heather Burns. Photograph: Collins

 

A further three coronavirus-related deaths and 1,066 new Covid-19 cases have been reported in the Republic as the country entered its first day of a six-week lockdown.

This brings the total number of deaths related to the disease in the State to 1,871 and the total number of confirmed cases to 54,476.

Of the cases reported on Thursday, 244 were in Dublin, 104 in Galway, 98 in Cork, 92 in Meath, with the remaining 528 spread across the rest of the country.

The median age of the people who tested positive is 32 with 67 per cent under 45 years of age.

Deputy chief medical officer Dr Heather Burns said: “The 14-day incidence was at three per 100,000 at the end of June, today it is 302 per 100,000 population. The risk of you being exposed to Covid-19 is now 100 times greater than it was four months ago. Please limit your risk by staying at home and following public health advice.”

Prof Philip Nolan, chair of the Nphet modelling group said the reproduction number was now 1.3-1.4 nationally. “If we work hard together to get the reproduction number to 0.5, we should succeed in reducing cases to below 100 a day in six weeks time.”

Earlier, the chief executive of the HSE Paul Reid apologised to the 2,000 people who tested positive for Covid-19 and were asked to forward a text to their own close contacts.

“It’s an unfortunate situation, I regret it,” Mr Reid said on Thursday.

The Level 5 restrictions introduced on Thursday, which are among the most severe in Europe, will be enforced by new powers for gardaí which are expected to be in place by next week, according to the Government.

Thousands of retail premises and other businesses shut their doors on Wednesday night, while hundreds of thousands of workers will now be obliged to work from home from Thursday.

The Irish Times reported on Tuesday that thousands of close contacts of positive Covid-19 cases from over a three-day period would not be contacted by the HSE because the contact tracing system was overwhelmed by cases last weekend.

Instead, the HSE on Wednesday asked 2,000-2,500 people who had tested positive for Covid to tell their close contacts to contact their GPs immediately to seek a test.

Speaking on RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show on Thursday, Mr Reid said what had happened with contact tracing at the weekend was a cause of concern, but it was not a decision that was taken lightly.

“We were not catching up on the backlog over the weekend,” he said.

Despite recruiting an extra 70 contact tracers per week, the “huge surge” in the past 10 days “did catch us.”

The recruitment process had not caught up with the surge in cases, he said. The recruitment campaign which commenced on September 7th saw 2,000 people apply and 800 interviews were held over five weeks. There were now 500 working in contact tracing with the plan to build up to 800 in the next few weeks.

Exiting lockdown

Meanwhile Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said an exit from Level 5 in December could be on a “region by region” basis depending on a range of factors.

Mr Donnelly said the decision to move to Level 5 restrictions was “a pre-emptive strike” and although the hospital services were “okay” at present, if the decision to go into lockdown had not been made, such services would have suffered.

Speaking on RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland, Mr Donnelly said that at the end of the six-week period the Government, along with the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), will look carefully at the situation at that time in order to establish how best to exit Level 5.

Mr Donnelly also denied that the contact tracing system has fallen down. It was not correct to say this as in the past six weeks there had been a 400 per cent increase in calls, he said.

For a short period last weekend there had been a “one-off situation” where demand had outstripped supply and a one-off “operational decision” was made to reset the system, Mr Donnelly said, and the HSE had assured him that it would not happen again.

In an ideal world that would not have happened, he said and he was willing to apologise to those asked to call their own close contacts, but it was important to remember that the country was in the middle of a global pandemic and things were not operating as normal. He said he had spoken to some of the people impacted.

Recruitment had ramped up, he said. There were now “significantly” more staff in place.

When asked about claims that some of those working on contact tracing were on zero hours contracts, the Minister said that he had asked the HSE for a full report on the contracts being given to such workers.

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