Coronavirus: Too early to say if Ireland has turned a corner, warns Tony Holohan

A further five deaths and 720 new cases reported by Nphet

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said that while it was good to see fewer cases being reported each day this week than in recent weeks, he would “stop short of saying it’s any kind of a trend” Photograph: Collins Photos

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said that while it was good to see fewer cases being reported each day this week than in recent weeks, he would “stop short of saying it’s any kind of a trend” Photograph: Collins Photos

 

The chief medical officer has warned it is too early to say whether Ireland has turned a corner in its management of Covid-19, despite falling daily case numbers and other positive indicators.

Dr Tony Holohan said he was “definitely not” at a stage where he could confidently say a corner had been turned, pointing out that numbers had stabilised in Dublin after the introduction of Level 3 measures, before then taking off again.

The CMO said that while it was welcome to see fewer cases being reported daily this week than in recent weeks, he would “stop short of saying it’s any kind of a trend”.

I wouldn’t take any encouragement from it at this stage,” he said. “We need to see this kind of change and see it keep up, and accelerate if anything from where we are at the moment.”

With case numbers and positivity rates of tests lower in recent days, Dr Holohan said there are “better signs” about the disease’ progression, “but are we at a point where we can draw any conclusion about the measures having the impact we need them to have and the scale we need them to have? We’re not quite at that point yet.”

He was speaking after the Department of Health confirmed a further five deaths associated with the virus, bringing the total in the State to 1,890. A further 720 cases were confirmed, with four out of the past five days recording fewer than 1,000 new cases. This follows an eight-day period where new daily cases were consistently above 1,000.

The national 14 day incidence rate is 308 cases per 100,000 of population, and the five day moving average is 862 cases per day. There have been a total of 58,767 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Ireland.

Data on behavioural attitudes shows that people are beginning to return to levels of compliance with stay at home advice seen during the Spring. The data shows that of 2,000 people surveyed, around 90 per cent were complying in April, which dipped in the summer to 66 per cent. It has increased again to 81 per cent.

He said the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) would meet this week for a fuller assessment of the trends of recent days.

Asked about testing and tracing, which was overwhelmed earlier this month leading to almost 2,000 people being asked to do their own contact tracing, he said the system was “very robust” and added that the first line of defence was personal behaviour.

He said he is confident there will be “a significant suppression of this virus over the course of the next number of weeks”, and that when the virus is not circulating as widely, “that whole system will have the capacity at much lower case loads to deal with that.” He pointed out that contact tracing systems across Europe have “essentially been breached by the scale of the infection that every European country is now experiencing.”

Level 3 restrictions, he said, seemed to stabilise the progression of the virus but failed to drive it back down again.

Dr Heather Burns, deputy chief medical officer, said that the data on positivity rates in schools suggested that they are not drivers of infection. In primary schools, 2.7 per cent of close contacts of confirmed cases are testing positive, she said, and in secondary schools the corresponding rate is 2.1 per cent. In the wider population, 10 per cent of close contacts test positive.

She said this was “reassuring” and added that there has been “considerable buy in in terms of implementing public health guidelines and keeping schools a safe environment for our students”.

Dr Holohan said the Nphet does not anticipate advising the Government not to reopen schools at the end of the mid term break.

Amid ongoing pressure from the aviation sector to liberalise the State’s approach to international travel, the CMO said data from across Europe and North America is “really concerning, and I’m being diplomatic when I say that.”

He said Ireland is mid table in terms of how the virus is progressing, and that internationally the situation is “rapidly deteriorating”. “The position in terms of the risks around travel at this moment in time are very, very high.”

Of the 720 new cases of Covid-19 confirmed on Tuesday 348 are in men and 371 among woman.

Some 65 per cent are under 45 years of age.

A total of 228 of the new cases are in Dublin, with 130 in Cork, 47 in Galway, 31 in Meath, 27 in Limerick and the remaining 257 cases are spread across another 20 counties.

There were 341 patients being treated for Covid-19 in the State’s hospitals on Tuesday afternoon, of which 38 are in intensive care.

There were 29 additional hospitalisations in the past 24 hours.

A total of 14,648 cases of coronavirus have been reported over the past two weeks with the 14 day incidence rate of infection now at 308 per 100,000 of the population.

The county with the highest 14 day incidence rate remains Cavan at 962.2 per 100,000 followed by Meath at 662.9 per 100,000. In Dublin the rate stands at 260 per 100,000.

On Monday Dr Holohan had urged people with Covid-19 and their contacts to act fully in accordance with advice.

“There are too many stories of people with symptoms/waiting on tests and not self-isolating, also contacts not restricting movements,” he said.

Urging people to “spread the message, not the virus”, he said self-isolating meant staying indoors completely and avoiding contact with all other people.

Anyone waiting for a Covid-19 test or test result must self-isolate for 10 days and those they live with or close contacts of a case must restrict their movements for 14 days, he said.

Thirteen more deaths from coronavirus in Northern Ireland were also reported on Tuesday by the North’s Department of Health.

This brings the total number of deaths in the North since the outbreak of the pandemic to 671.

With heavy pressures now falling on hospitals and doctors’ surgeries due to Covid-19 the department reported 722 new positive cases of the virus, bringing the overall total to 35,554 with 6,493 cases occurring in the past seven days.