Covid-19: Call to avoid unnecessary ‘mingling’ as 344 cases and four deaths confirmed

Over one third of latest infections in Dublin but Donegal still has highest incidence rate of disease

Dr Colm Henry, HSE chief clinical officer, said some of the Covid-19 trends seen in recent days suggest that people have increased their levels of socialising.  Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times.

Dr Colm Henry, HSE chief clinical officer, said some of the Covid-19 trends seen in recent days suggest that people have increased their levels of socialising. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times.

 

A further 344 cases of Covid-19 and four deaths have been confirmed in the State, as a senior health official asked people to avoid unnecessary “mingling” for the remaining 10 days of the lockdown.

In a statement on Saturday evening, the Department of Health said a total of 70,143 cases have been confirmed in Ireland and 2,022 people with the disease have died since the pandemic began.

Of the latest cases, 127 were in Dublin, 46 were in Cork, 26 were in Louth, 22 were in Donegal, 20 were in Limerick and the remaining 103 were spread across 20 counties.

The median age of those infected was 32, and 69 per cent of the cases were in people aged under 45.

As of 2pm on Saturday, 269 people were in hospital with Covid-19, with 32 patients in intensive care units.

Over the last 14 days there has been an average of 113.3 cases per 100,000 people nationally, with the highest incidence rates recorded in Donegal (255 cases per 100,000), Limerick (218.1) and Louth (201.7). The rate in Dublin is running at just above the national average (123.1) with the lowest incidence of Covid-19 in Wexford (39.4), Galway (62) and Wicklow (68.8).

Northern Ireland’s Department of Health on Saturday said 10 further deaths and 357 additional Covid-19 cases had been reported in the previous 24 hours.

Meanwhile, Dr Colm Henry, the HSE chief clinical officer, on Saturday said the more the public avoids “mingling with people unnecessarily” for the remainder of the Level 5 restrictions, the more options there will be for reopening the country at Christmas.

Interacting

Dr Henry said some trends seen in recent days suggest that people have increased their levels of socialising despite the curbs.

“What we see is a slight rise of the number of contacts per case. That infers there’s been some let up in that reduction of contacts and the way people intermingle with each other,” Dr Henry told RTÉ’s Saturday with Katie Hannon.

“That R value is not just an inanimate number. It’s the sum total of a million small interactions between people, all of which produce this number that tells us how much we’re interacting with each other and how much this virus is transmitting.”

The Government is currently grappling with how best to exit the highest level of restrictions, which are due to be eased on December 1st. Case numbers decreased dramatically in the first few weeks of restrictions, however the declining trend has stalled.

Dr Henry said the more “we gain” between now and the beginning of December, the more options there will be in terms of reopening economic and social life.

“ The more it sticks at this level, this stalling we’ve seen over the last few days of 300 to 400 cases per day, it narrows our options. We want to widen options as much as possible,” he said.

“The more we do now, the more we avoid mingling with people unnecessarily; and that includes employers, employees striving to work from home, the more we avoid mingling with each other in any social settings, the number of options we will have at the beginning of December, for Christmas, and that’s better for everybody.”

R number

The R number - the number of cases linked to each confirmed infection - has increased slightly from 0.6 to between 0.7 and 0.9.

Dr Tony Holohan, the chief medical officer, this week attributed the “stalled” progress to public compliance with restrictions. He said people have “slipped” and the country had effectively “lost a week”.

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Micheál Martin on Friday said the the level of new infections of late was worrying and might have been stoked by news around a new vaccine as well as restriction fatigue being experienced by the public.

However, he added that he wants Ireland to exit Level 5 on December 1st, but that this Christmas will be very different to previous years and large groups of people could not congregate in pubs or other settings.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Government’s vaccine taskforce has said a strategy to inoculate the Irish population against Covid-19 will be dealt with “urgently and comprehensively”.

Prof Brian MacCraith said urgency is “the key word” and that the taskforce will release information on the roll out of vaccines when it is “available and when it’s accurate”.

Reports this week suggest three vaccines are showing positive early indicators. Moderna’s vaccine has a confirmed 94.5 per cent efficacy; Pfizer-BioNTech’s hits 95 per cent on that scale; and Oxford University-AstraZeneca’s phase 2 findings showed it causing few side effects, particularly among older people.

“We got really excellent news this week, albeit by press release. I think there’s great excitement about the indicators of at least three of the vaccines; the Oxford university one, the moderna one and the Pfizer one. Really strong indications,” Prof MacCraith told RTÉ radio’s The Business on Saturday.

Vaccine distribution

The taskforce is to have its first full meeting early next week, and Prof MacCraith said one of the issues it will be addressing is how to go about communicating the State’s plans to distribute a vaccine. He said it was “very important for the Irish public to get certainty” on what was going to happen.

“Going out with speculations is not really helpful to Irish society. The general public deserves clarity and really clear information on this. I think that’s what we’ll do over the coming weeks,” he said.

“We’ll decide next week the approach to that but I think at this stage, urgency and certainty are the key issues and I think that is critically important for the general well being of Irish society and the general well being for our economy as well.”

The Taoiseach on Friday told Virgin Media News the vaccine could be available early next year.

“The European President of the Commission is now saying it could be the second half of December that they will get authorisation... which could mean, for the early part of 2021, we’re in a position to start procuring the vaccine. It could change the situation significantly for the better,” he said.

Mr Martin previously said that people vulnerable to Covid-19 would be prioritised once safe vaccines to prevent the virus are approved and ready.

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