Resurgence in new travel-related Covid-19 cases concerns health officials

State officials investigating new cases related to travel, including from Britain and Sweden

Professor Philip Nolan, Chair of the NPHET Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group has said that there are strong indications that in Ireland the Covid-19 disease is now at "a very low level and very stable." Video RTÉ News Now


A resurgence in the number of new Covid-19 infections in the State as a result of foreign travel, including from Britain and Sweden, has raised concerns among public health officials.

Fewer than 10 new cases of the coronavirus disease relating to travel outside the country were reported over the past fortnight after several weeks with no confirmed cases associated with travel.

“Over the last two weeks we have begun to see a small number of travel-related cases - it is a cause for concern nonetheless,” said Professor Philip Nolan, a health adviser to the Government.

Prof Nolan, chair of the Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group to the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), said that many of these cases were still being investigated.

The Department of Health reported four additional Covid-19 fatalities and 16 new confirmed cases on Thursday, bringing the death toll to 1,714 and the total number of cases to 23,355.

Nursing homes account for 962 deaths or 56 per cent of all fatalities from the disease.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said the greater the progress made on suppressing the virus at home, the more important the risk of importing cases from abroad would become.

“We wouldn’t like to see any cases being imported if we can avoid that,” he said.

He advised people to continue to avoid all non-essential and holiday travel to and from Ireland.

Prof Nolan said that the figures on the low number of new cases and admissions to hospitals and intensive care units showed that the disease was “at a very low level and very stable.”

He told Thursday’s Department of Health Covid-19 media briefing - now taking place twice-weekly - that public health officials were managing to suppress existing outbreaks and eliminate any new outbreaks.

As a consequence, the greatest proportion of new confirmed Covid-19 cases - almost 60 per cent - were occurring in isolated cases connected to clusters in households or family settings.

He estimated that the reproduction number - the key metric to assess whether the virus was spreading - was “somewhere between 0.5 and 0.7, probably close to 0.7.” This means that if 10 people became infected, they will pass it on to seven others between them.

Prof Nolan sounded “a note of caution” that health officials “would only just now” be seeing the effect of changes made in the second reopening phase on June 8th.

“It remains very early in terms of any thinking about can we accelerate things,” he said.

Dr Holohan said there was “nothing untoward” in the behaviour of the virus but that it would be the end of next week before NPHET would advise on the third reopening phase on June 29th.

He said the team did not see pubs reopening in the same phase as restaurants from the end of the month but that if pubs planned to operate as restaurants from this date he hoped publicans would be “responsible” in applying public health advice and guidance “in good faith”.

“We know the difference between a pub and a restaurant,” he said.

Asked about Northern Ireland’s plans to reopen schools, Dr Holohan sounded a warning that some countries have been “stepping back” and reimposing restrictions on schools.

“It only serves as a reminder to all of us that the risk of transmission with this diseases is still there and transmission can occur in any of these settings. We have to take all of these things into account in setting out the advice and guidance we will give,” he said.

The State’s deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said that a second wave of the virus was “certainly a risk” but it was “too early to say” whether it would happen. It was not necessarily inevitable if people and businesses continued to follow public health guidance, he said.

“We are not out of the first wave; we are still dealing with this,” he said.

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