Ireland had world’s highest Covid-19 infection rate last week

Irish rate was second only to Belgium’s in October as worst of entire pandemic to date

A record surge in Covid-19 cases in Ireland was due to increased social mixing over Christmas and was not caused by a new variant from Britain, Dr Mike Ryan of the World Health Organisation has said.


Ireland has the highest Covid-19 infection rate in the world after more than 45,700 cases were recorded in the State last week.

The disease spread faster in Ireland than in any other country in the seven days to January 10th, with 1,323 daily cases recorded per million people, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University in the US and the non-profit organisation Our World in Data.

The infection rate was some 50 per cent higher than the United Kingdom’s, where there were 881 daily cases per one million people.

The Czech Republic, with 1,210 cases per million people, had the second highest rate, followed by Slovenia, where the seven-day rolling average was 975 daily cases per million. Across Europe, an average of 335 cases were recorded each day per million of population.

Ireland’s infection rate last week was not only the highest in the world, but one of the highest rates seen anywhere during the pandemic. It was second only to that recorded in Belgium in October – where the a seven-day rolling average hit 1,536 cases per million people.

The data comes with a caveat, as delays to individual countries reporting new cases can affect the tallies compiled. Furthermore, testing rates vary from country to country, creating a difficulty in making direct comparisons.

Positivity rate

Ireland is currently testing five people for every thousand of the population, with a seven-day average positivity rate of 21 per cent. This is behind the UK, which is testing seven in every 1,000 people and where the positivity rate is 12 per cent. Up until Christmas Eve, France was testing eight people per thousand, but it is now swabbing just four per thousand with a 6 per cent positivity rate. A high positivity rate suggests a likelihood that a country is not identifying a large share of positive cases.

Denmark has the second-highest testing rate in Europe (after Cyprus) and one of the lowest positivity rates. Of the 12 in every thousand Danish people getting swabbed, 2.7 per cent receive positive test results.

Although the second lockdown did not get cases to below 100 per day as the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) had hoped, Ireland had been hailed for having the lowest rate of the virus in the European Union in early December.

However, the situation quickly deteriorated in the run-up to Christmas, and the country’s case numbers surged from mid-December into early January, when Ireland began to overtake its European neighbours in terms of daily infections per head of population.

Despite the rise in positive tests, Ireland remains well below most other countries in terms of Covid-19 deaths per head of population. Nearly 14 in every million people in the UK were dying with the disease each day last week, compared with about two in Ireland.

However, hospitalisations, admissions to intensive care units and deaths lag behind reported cases, and health experts are warning that Covid-19-related deaths in Ireland could exceed 100 a day in the weeks ahead.