Impact of coronavirus ‘overwhelming’ in Republic but for public-health controls

‘Within 20 days from now we would have had a peak of 100,000 cases per day,’ says expert

Nurse Jackie Kayes who tends to Covid-19 patients in Northern Ireland where four more deaths occured today. Photograph: Reuters

Nurse Jackie Kayes who tends to Covid-19 patients in Northern Ireland where four more deaths occured today. Photograph: Reuters

 

On a day another 28 people died from coronavirus, modelling data shows that the disease’s daily advance has reduced from 33 per cent in the early stages of the outbreak to 9 per cent this week.

Prof Philip Nolan, chairman of the National Public Health Emergency Team’s epidemiological modelling group, said the virus would have “overwhelmed” the country by now only for public-health restrictions.

“What would have happened in those circumstance is that within 20 days from now we would have had a peak of 100,000 cases per day,” he said.

If measures had been limited to initial restrictions to close schools, universities, and curtail public gatherings, the country would have encountered an “overwhelming peak of infection at 60,000 cases,” said Prof Nolan.

“This is not a simple question of flattening the curve, it’s not simply a question of pushing the peak out into the future, it’s a question of completely suppressing this disease,” he added.

The rate at which the virus is being passed has reduced significantly, he said. Where one case would infect another 4½ people at the beginning of the outbreak, that reproduction multiple had fallen to about one extra person, he added.

However, the virus would continue to spread slowly through the population if that reproduction rate was “even a fraction above one”, said Prof Nolan.

Physical distancing and curtailment on non-essential movement would likely be needed “for some prolonged period of time in order to keep the disease suppressed”. And any decision to ease or lift the measures would be “risky” he said.

In addition to the further fatalites on Thursday the number of confirmed cases in the State increased by 500. This represents the largest jump in a single day to date.

Fifteen of the patients who died were female and 13 were male. The average age was 84, according to the public health emergency team. Nineteen of the patients had an underlying health condition.

This brings the number of deaths from the coronavirus, also known as Covid-19, to 263 in the Republic.

The number of known cases increased to 6,574 on Thursday. Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan attributed the spike in confirmed cases to increased testing.

Dr Holohan also said he was “sensitive” to uncertainty facing Leaving Ceificate students regarding the State examinations and. Officials “will try to bring as much certainty to that as quickly as we can”, he added.

Travel into the country from the UK and further abroad was “very very limited” to returning Irish citizens and essential workers, such as haulage drivers working in key supply chains, said Dr Holohan.

HSE’s chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henrysaid the health service’s position on the use of face masks had not changed, and only individuals advised to wear masks should use the protective equipment.

There was evidence that widespread general use of masks “may add to your risk”, said Dr Henry. This is because people who do not know how to correctly use the equipment may end up touching their face more as a result, he said.

Nursing homes

The number of coronavirus infection clusters in nursing homes countrywide has reached 100, according to the latest detailed figures on coronavirus cases released by State officials.

The Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HSPC) disclosed more detailed information showing that as of Monday, April 6th, there were outbreaks – defined as two or more cases – in 100 nursing homes, including 52 in the east of the country, 20 in the northeast and 13 in the west.

There were four clusters in nursing homes in the midlands, another four in the midwest, three in the northwest, three in the south and one in the southeast.

There were a further 37 clusters in residential facilities, of which 22 were in Dublin.

Fianna Fáil on testing

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has said that more than 50,000 people are waiting to be tested.

“The areas of most concern that were articulated were the ongoing issues around PPE [personal protection equipment], the situation in relation to nursing homes and the entire situation on testing.”

He said that in terms of testing, “around 53,000 tests have been completed to date. There were 51,000 people awaiting appointments for swab-taking and it seems to me that there is still a degree of work to be done on the testing front. What was identified to us was a lab-capacity issue. So, suffice to say, the country is not where it would want to be in terms of the volume of testing and the turnaround of testing.”

As the Easter bank holiday approaches Cross-Border travel will be monitored by gardaí and PSNI officers to ensure people are adhering to coronavirus restrictions.

Infectious disease expert Dr Paddy Mallon said the Irish Government acted at the right time, unlike in the United Kingdom where an event such as Cheltenham was allowed proceed. Consequently, there are now “tens of thousands” of cases.

It was “one of the seminal” events that led to wider spread of the virus in the UK, Dr Mallon told Newstalk Breakfast.

The weekend could be “Ireland’s Cheltenham” if people in the east of the country (where there are more cases) “decide to take off”, he warned.

Deaths in Northern Ireland

Dr Mallon’s warning comes as the number of people who have died from the virus in Northern Ireland has risen by four to 82, according to the latest figures from the North’s Public Health Agency, released on Thursday afternoon.

The agency also said there were 138 new confirmed cases of Covid-19, bringing the total number in the North to 1,477. A total of 10,203 people have been tested for the virus.

In the Republic gardaí have been given new powers to enforce rules designed to keep as many people at home as possible. Local authorities countrywide have also announced that beach car parks will be closed over the weekend. County councils including Cork, Wexford, Mayo and Clare have published details of closures on social media.

At the Government’s morning Covid-19 briefing, assistant secretary general in the Department of Taoiseach Liz Canavan said “points of contact have been established to monitor cross-Border travel and . . . gardaí will follow their usual approach to engage, educate, encourage and enforce as a last resort”.

Analysis by the HSPC of 6,444 cases shows the median age is 48. Just under a quarter of cases resulted in the patient being hospitalised, and some 1,765 cases were related to healthcare workers.

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