Covid-19: Doubling in household visits cited as factor in case numbers plateauing

Three further deaths and 606 more cases confirmed in the State

One in 10 people visited another household for social reasons in mid-March, according to the Department of Health. File photograph: The Irish Times

One in 10 people visited another household for social reasons in mid-March, according to the Department of Health. File photograph: The Irish Times

 

A doubling in the amount of inter-household visiting since the start of February has been cited as a factor behind the plateauing of Covid-19 case numbers.

One in 10 people visited another household for social reasons in mid-March, up from one in 20 at the start of February, according to assistant chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn.

Most of the visits involved time spent indoors, surveying carried out for the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) found.

“While this clearly demonstrates the vast majority of people are sticking with the public health guidance, it does represent a significant change versus January,” Dr Glynn said.

The “small slippage” in the level of household visiting, along with a rise in contacts and mobility, has led to the current stasis in case numbers, he said.

“Please continue to stick with the public heath advice and avoid visiting other homes at this time – do not give this virus the opportunities it is seeking to spread.”

A further three deaths of Covid-19 patients were reported by Nphet on Thursday. Two of the deaths occurred in March and one in February.

This brings to 4,631 the total number of deaths in the pandemic.

Nphet also reported 606 confirmed cases of the disease, bringing to 232,758 the total number of cases in the Republic.

Of the new cases, 249 are in Dublin, 57 in Donegal, 39 in Kildare, 32 in March, 31 in Louth and the remaining 198 cases are spread across all other counties.

The 14-day incidence of the disease now stands at 159.5 cases per 100,000 people nationally. Offaly has the highest county incidence, followed by Donegal. Kilkenny has the lowest incidence.

The median age of cases is 33 years and 75 per cent are under 45.

The reproduction number, a measure of how many other people a case infects, now stands at 1-1.3, according to Prof Philip Nolan, chair of the Nphet epidemiological modelling advisory group.

Schools

The number of cases among younger children has risen by 40-60 per cent since the start of February but officials declined to link this increase to the re-opening of schools.

Prof Nolan pointed out that the amount of testing of children has increased by a far greater amount – four- to six-fold.

Just because cases among children rose at the time schools opened again didn’t imply causation, he said, adding that a “much more complex set of interactions” may be involved.

Prof Nolan said case numbers continue to be “either static or slowly increasing”.The recent trend was “not definitive” and it was hard to say what will happen over the next week or 10 days.

“We are experiencing a levelling off in the daily incidence rate of Covid-19 and the concern is that we could so easily move backwards and undo the progress that has been hard-earned since the beginning of the year.”

“The pattern isn’t entirely clear and continues to be volatile, so we’ll be monitoring this quite carefully over the coming weeks.”

Vaccines

About 5,500 reports of side-effects among people who have been administered Covid-19 vaccines have been received so far, according to Dr Lorraine Nolan, chief executive of the Health Products Regulatory Authority. This related to 470,000 first doses and 175,000 second doses.

She said most of the report involved transient events and the safety profile of the three authorised vaccines remains good.

The report include 32 involving blood clotting among people who had received the vaccine but in the vast majority of these reports, other medical issues were noted, she said.

Asked why official figures show just six second doses of vaccine were administered last Sunday, Dr Glynn said he wasn’t sure this data was accurate, or whether there hadn’t a data uploading issue.

On Thursday morning, 312 Covid-19 patients were hospitalised, of which 75 were in ICU. There were 24 additional hospitalisations in the previous 24 hours.

Up to Monday, 690,449 doses of vaccine had been administered in Ireland: 503,796 people first doses and 186,653 second doses.

Paul Reid, CEO, HSE said cases of Covid-19 had risen nine per cent in the past week. File photograph: Sam Boal / Photocall Ireland
Paul Reid, CEO, HSE said cases of Covid-19 had risen nine per cent in the past week. File photograph: Sam Boal / Photocall Ireland

Contact tracing

Earlier on Thursday, the Health Service Executive announced that backwards contact tracing of those who test positive for Covid-19 will be extended from two to seven days from next week.

The extension of contact tracing will only be offered to those who are infected through community transmission, where the source of transmission is unknown, which is about 20 per cent of all cases.

The HSE’s head of contact tracing Dr Greg Martin said moving from two days to seven will identify more cases.

As the vaccination rollout continues and numbers fall, he said “we will have a mechanism where we can chase down every case”.

He said seven days was the threshold that will give greatest “bang for the buck” in terms of the resources needed to track and trace.

Dr Martin said they currently have 850 contact tracers and this is sufficient for the number of cases that are around at present.

Rising figures

HSE chief executive Paul Reid said the impact of Covid-19 on the health services in the first quarter of the year was “beyond any predictions”.

The surge in cases in January and February and the lingering impact on March came at the end of a year of Covid-19 that “nobody wants to remember”, he added.

At the weekly HSE briefing he said Covid-19 figures were rising in Ireland again as they were across Europe, with a 9 per cent increase in figures over the last seven days compared to the previous seven days.

However, the number of hospitalisations at 313 on Thursday morning is down 10 per cent in a week and the number in ICUs, 75, is down 9 per cent.

He said the second quarter of the year will see a significant ramping up in vaccinations with a million doses due in the State during April.

The programme will be rolled out with the 65 to 69-year age group, of whom there are approximately 170,000. They will be vaccinated with AstraZeneca.

Mr Reid qualified that, while a million doses are scheduled to arrive in the State every month in the next quarter, “it is not fixed and confirmed” and the “vast majority” of AstraZeneca deliveries have been wrong.

The first Johnson & Johnson vaccines are due to arrive in the State in the second half of April.

This will be followed by a “huge scaling up” in May when the general population begins to be vaccinated, he stated.