Fourth wave of pandemic beginning in Ireland – Holohan

Rate of transmission rising in past 10 days with notable patterns in Dublin, Waterford

A concerning increase in recent Covid-19 infections driven by the Delta variant indicates a fourth wave of the pandemic is now beginning in Ireland, the chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan has said.

As deaths from the virus reached the milestone of 5,000 on Thursday, the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) painted a bleak picture of the summer ahead as the new variant begins to take hold.

Asked whether recent trends were indicative of a fourth wave, Dr Holohan told a briefing "there is every reason to believe…that we are facing a significant wave of Delta-driven transmission" alongside the rest of Europe.

Dr Philip Nolan, chair of the Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, agreed, saying the only unknowns were how big it was likely to be and how it might translate to hospitalisations.

The rate of transmission levels has increased notably in the last 10 days, now at 2 per cent per day with particular concern around patterns in the Dublin region.

Deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn also pointed to localised outbreaks – about 200 cases in Dungarvan, Co Waterford linked to a pub, as well as in Athlone and Sligo, and warned of a faster spread than before.

“This is not like previously. The outbreaks are very easily [spreading] across the community, across settings,” he said. “It’s not about one work place, one pub, one family; once it gets into a community it’s spreading much easier than we’ve seen.”

Dr Glynn also said that while overall incidence remained low in Europe generally, a number of issues relating to the Delta variant were emerging.

Scotland reported its highest case rate yet on Thursday at over 4,000, while in Portugal, with rising cases, 60 per cent are now linked to the more transmissible variant.

"[There are] very significant increases and instances in Cyprus and in Israel today, which has a very high vaccination uptake," he said. "They have reported their highest daily case count in over three months."

Those unnerving scenarios set the tone for what public health officials believe is about to begin in Ireland over the coming months.

Reproduction number

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has warned that Europe is now facing potentially sharp increases in new infections, hospitalisations and deaths over the coming weeks.

“That’s been echoed today by the director of WHO Europe, who again has stated that all the conditions are now in place for a further wave for the autumn,” Dr Glynn said.

Outlining Nphet modelling, Dr Nolan said Ireland is now in a “concerning situation” with hospitalisations stabilising where they had previously been decreasing.

“We would be concerned that there might be an increase in those in the coming weeks,” he said, noting also an increase in unvaccinated and partially vaccinated cohorts, underlining the need to get people vaccinated quickly.

Incidents generally are now at close to 390 cases daily, and back above 100 cases per 100,000 head of population over 14 days. The reproduction number is now estimated at somewhere between 1 and 1.2, all key indicators examined to see where the virus is going.

“We have to be concerned at this point that we are at the beginning of an increase in incidence driven by the Delta variant, that presents significant dangers to the unvaccinated population and to the partially vaccinated population,” he said.

Meanwhile, on the issue of Nphet advice that communions and confirmations should not proceed on the basis of potential spread, Dr Glynn said he could not recommend church services proceed on the basis families would refrain from socialising afterwards.

“I think on the basis that that’s not what happens in reality, I don’t think we can recommend that unfortunately,” he said.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times