Covid-19: ‘Alarming escalation’ in spread of virus as 1,620 new cases and 12 more deaths reported

Close contacts of confirmed cases no longer advised to get tested

A further 1,620 cases of coronavirus and 12 more deaths were reported by the National Public Health Emergency Team on Thursday.

There have now been 91,772 cases of coronavirus reported in the Republic since the start of the pandemic last March, and 2,237 deaths.

Of the cases notified today, 794 are men and 819 are women, 65 per cent are under 45 years of age wih the median age 34 years. A total of 498 were in Dublin, 203 in Limerick, 89 in Galway, 73 in Cork, 67 in Mayo and the remaining 690 cases are spread across all other counties.

Hospital Report

As of 2pm today, 490 Covid-19 patients are hospitalised, of which 42 are in ICU, with 58 additional hospitalisations in the past 24 hours, Nphet said.


Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said the "alarming escalation in the incidence of the virus in the general population gives great cause for concern.

“This disease is now widespread in our communities and as a result we are asking everyone to behave as if they are a close contact,” he added.

“To support the testing system through this surge, we are no longer advising close contacts of confirmed cases to get tested. Testing and tracing is an exercise in containment and we are no longer in a containment phase. However, it is imperative that if you are a close contact of a confirmed case you restrict your movements and contact your GP immediately if you develop symptoms.”

Under-reported cases

The number of positive cases of Covid-19 is under-reported by an estimated 4,000, due to delays in recording positive test results on the system over the Christmas period, a senior public health official has said.

Professor Philip Nolan, chair of the Nphet Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, said the epidemiological situation has deteriorated rapidly over the past week, and that we are “clearly in the midst of the third wave”.

He said the reproductive number is at least 1.6 to 1.8, and the daily growth rate is estimated at 7 to 10 per cent, giving a doubling time of seven to 10 days.

However, Prof Nolan said the number of positive cases is higher than has been reported, due to a lag between a test coming back positive and being reported in the system.

He said this situation arose because “very few people” presented for tests on Christmas, Eve, Christmas Day and St Stephen’s Day. However, immediately after Chrsistmas, there were very large numbers testing.

“We know of additional positive tests that have yet to be reported on the system in recent days,” he told the Nphet briefing on Thursday. This system wasn’t designed to report 2,000, 3,000 or 4,000 tests per day,” he said.

Prof Nolan said that this lag “in no way interferes” with identifying cases, but acknowledged the epidemiological situation is “somewhat worse” than has been reported.

Rise in contacts

Dr Holohan said the average number of contacts per case had risen from 2.5 in November to an average in recent days of 6.3. “This is very far from where we need to be and I am appealing to everyone at every age to adhere to the mandated restrictions that the Government has introduced – stay at home, except for essential reasons, other than for exercise up to 5km.”

Prof Nolan said: “The epidemiological situation is very serious and the virus is spreading rapidly amongst all age groups, increasing the risk to those most vulnerable to severe infection, such as the medically vulnerable and people over 60 years of age. The reproduction number is at least 1.6-1.8. The daily growth rate is estimated now at 7 per cernt -10 per cent giving a doubling time of 7-10 days or less.

“We project significant further increase in cases and hospitalisations in the coming days before public health measures take effect and are likely to see over 700-1000 people in hospital with Covid-19 early in the New Year.

“While it is difficult to face into further restrictions, it is vital that everyone plays their part by following the public health advice to protect those most vulnerable in the population.”

Eleven new deaths and 1,929 new cases of Covid-19 were reported in the past 24 hours in Northern Ireland, according to the Department of Health there.

Ireland began a full Level 5 lockdown at midnight with non-essential retail, gyms, leisure centres and swimming pools closing from close of business on Thursday.

Third lockdown

The announcement of the third lockdown by Mr Martin came after rapid spread of the disease over the Christmas period.

“The numbers will deteriorate further over the coming days,” Mr Martin said in a televised address to the nation at 6pm on Wednesday.

“With the disease spreading much faster, the threat of our health system being overwhelmed and the risk of increased sickness and death among our vulnerable and older populations is obvious,” he added.

“The truth is, that with the presence of the new strain and the pace of growth, this is not a time for nuance in our response. We must apply the brakes to movement and physical interaction across the country.”

He said the next month “as we face into these strictest controls in the depth of winter, is going to be very tough for everyone.”

However he said there was light at the end of the tunnel, after a year of the “most extraordinary effort by the most talented scientific minds on earth, we have safe and effective vaccines.”

Meanwhile on Wednesday, Minsiter for Health Stephen Donnelly tweeted that the HSE plans to administer 20,000 vaccines in Ireland next week. The HSE confirmed that this round of inoculations will include nursing homes and healthcare workers.

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is Health Correspondent of The Irish Times