Covid-19: Ireland heading for under 100 cases a day by December, says Nphet expert

HSE: Ireland ‘almost best in class’ in Europe in tackling second wave of virus

Ireland is on course to have fewer than 100 cases a day of Covid-19 by December 1st, Prof Philip Nolan has claimed.

The chairman of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) modelling advisory group, said the reproduction rate is now close to 0.5, meaning incidences of the disease are declining rapidly.

The R rate at 0.5 means that two people who have Covid-19 will only pass it on to one person, and eventually the disease will die out.

Separately, Health Service Executive chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said Ireland is dealing with the second wave of Covid-19 better than most of Europe.

He told Newstalk Breakfast’s programme: “We’re almost best in class in terms of reversing the trends. I’m really hoping we’ll be in a position to go back, that we’ll have options, that we’ll have a range of options that will allow for people coming together. The better we perform now, the better options we’ll have in December.

“We’re keeping our hospitals safe, our emergency departments, and all other hospital services are open for business, if you need urgent or emergency care they are there for you,” Mr Henry said.

Prof Nolan said the situation in Ireland had changed from where it was three weeks ago when there were 1,200 cases per day and numbers were growing at between 5 and 8 per cent .

Now, numbers are declining by between 5 and 7 per cent per day, he said in his latest Twitter thread.

“When we started this phase of our Covid-19 response three weeks ago, we could not be certain that we, collectively, would get to where we are today: R safely less than 1.0 and close to 0.5; daily case numbers less than 400 and decreasing at -5% to -7% per day.

“Three weeks ago we were reporting 1,200 cases per day, growing exponentially at 5%-8% per day, and were probably 2-3 weeks away from our health system being overwhelmed.

“We are in a very different position now. We’ve shown what we can achieve, and the next three weeks will make all the difference. If we keep it up, we will have fewer that 100 cases per day by 1 December, and a brighter future. #HoldFirm,” Prof Nolan tweeted.

Last week Nphet's modelling was criticised by independent TD Michael McNamara, the former chair of the Oireachtas special committee on Covid-19.

Mr McNamara said Level 5 was unnecessary citing a graphic done by economist and statistician David Higgins based on Covid-19 daily figures.

It showed case numbers are much lower than even the best case scenario as envisaged by Nphet when projections were published on October 19th at the start of the Level 5 lockdown.

The graph produced by Nphet then envisaged a best case scenario of 500 cases a day this week and a worse case scenario of 1,200 cases a day.

Mr McNamara tweeted: “On 22 October, NPHET stated: The current estimate of R is 1.3-1.4. That was clearly wrong.

“R >1 numbers rise, R<1 numbers fall. On 22 October, numbers were falling. 55,000 needlessly put on PUP is an appalling vista.”

Prof Nolan defended Nphet’s modelling stating that the R rate then was a “good estimate of reproduction number. The estimate was made on 20 October 2020 based on confirmed cases to midnight 18 October”.

He explained that “nowcasting’ the R number is difficult as it may take days for newly diagnosed cases to transmit the virus on to other people.

“ This is why we do not rely on R estimates alone to understand the likely trajectory of the epidemic, but use a variety of indicators and analyses,” he stated.

The latest figures from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) shows all key metrics of the disease are declining.

There were 395 cases and one death announced on Thursday evening. The numbers in hospital declined by 13 to 285. The numbers in intensive care units at 38 was up two from the day before. The positivity rate of 3.5 per cent is half of what it was at the peak of the second wave of the pandemic.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times