Holohan warns of up to 1,000 Covid-19 deaths in January, calls for tighter air travel rules

Pre-travel test ‘is not sufficiently robust system for prevention of disease importation’

Chief medical officer Tony Holohan said there will be between 800 and 1,600 cases a day by the end of the month. Photograph: Collins

Chief medical officer Tony Holohan said there will be between 800 and 1,600 cases a day by the end of the month. Photograph: Collins


There will be up to 1,000 Covid-19 deaths in January as Ireland continues to experience an “epidemiological situation of profound concern”, chief medical officer Tony Holohan warned the Government last week.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) has also recommended more stringent measures for international travel to reduce the likelihood of importing new case of the virus.

In a letter sent to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly on January 14th, Dr Holohan estimated 500 to 1,000 deaths will occur in the month of January. As of today, 539 deaths have been reported.

Dr Holohan warned that even by optimistic projections, there will be between 800 and 1,600 cases a day by the end of the month.

The modelling also suggests peak demand for hospital care will occur in the coming days with 2,000-2,400 people in hospital, with 250-300 people in ICU.

Dr Holohan warned the incidence of Covid-19 in the State remains “exceptionally high” but has begun to fall.

He also warned that the number of deaths amongst the vulnerable and in long-term settings will substantially grow.

“We are seeing rapidly increasing incidence in long-term care settings and vulnerable groups. The marked impact of widespread transmission is being observed in both the number and scale of new outbreaks occurring in health and social care settings, including in acute hospitals and long-term residential care facilities,” he said.

“Given the high attack rates in congregated settings once infection enters, it is likely that a number of these settings will now experience a high number of deaths. In addition to deaths associated with nursing homes and hospital outbreaks, mortality in the community is also increasing, and, it can be anticipated that there will be a large number of deaths in the coming weeks.”

The average number of adult close contacts of confirmed cases peaked at 4.7 on December 28th but fell to 2.3 on January 12th, the letter said.

Nphet public health team has also recommended more stringent measures on international travel.

“Nphet expressed its continuing concern about the risks associated with international travel, whether by Irish residents or by travellers from other countries to Ireland. It continues to advise against all non-essential international travel.

“While noting and welcoming the requirement now being provided for in law whereby arriving passengers from all countries will be required to present evidence of a negative/not-detected RT-PCR test result, taken 72 hours prior to arrival to Ireland, the Nphet considered that further measures should be adopted.”

The team said a “pre-travel test alone is not a sufficiently robust system for the prevention of disease importation and modelling shows that even the best-performing tests will miss up to 40 per cent of cases.”

“The Nphet noted that in response to the emergence of variant strains, many EU countries have adopted more stringent travel policies to meet these new risks. These include combinations of pre-departure testing, quarantine requirements on arrival and post-arrival testing rules.”