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Nphet warn 'very marginal increase' of close social contacts will likely lead to 'significant fourth wave'

It comes as six further deaths and 411 new cases of Covid-19 were reported today


Deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn

Deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn

Deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn

There have been six further deaths of people with Covid-19 and 411 new cases confirmed by the Department of Health this afternoon.

All six of these deaths occurred in March.

This takes the total number of cases 235,854.

The national 14-day incidence rate has risen to 161 per 100,000 people.

The five-day moving average is 509 cases per day.

The median age of those who died was 79 years and the age range was 49 - 87 years.

There has been a total of 4,687 Covid-19 related deaths in Ireland.

There have been 150 new cases confirmed in Dublin, 31 in Donegal, 25 in Kildare, 25 in Wexford, 21 in Offaly and the remaining 159 cases are spread across 17 other counties.

Wicklow, Leitrim, Sligo and Kilkenny recorded no new cases in the past 24-hour reporting period.

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Ireland’s R number is estimated to be between 1 and 1.3 with Professor Philip Nolan saying Ireland’s epidemiological situation has not changed much in the last ten to 14 days.

As of 8am today, 297 Covid-19 patients are hospitalised, of which 67 are in ICU. There have been 16 additional hospitalisations in the past 24 hours.

As of Sunday March 28, 806,541 doses of Covid-19 vaccine have been administered in Ireland: 580,857 people have received their first dose and 225,684 people have received their second dose.

Of the cases notified today: 202 are men and 209 are women; 70pc are under 45 years of age and the median age is 35 years old.

'Critical window' over next 8 weeks

Dr Ronan Glynn, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Department of Health, said; “Together with all of the basic public health measures with which we are all now so familiar, vaccination will significantly reduce risk of Covid-19 over the next relatively short period of time.

"It will radically reduce mortality when those over 70 are fully vaccinated but will initially have a smaller effect on hospitalisation and critical care until the wider adult population, especially vulnerable adults and those aged 50-69 years, are protected by vaccination.

“There is a critical window over the next 8 weeks where any significant increase in close contact is likely to lead to a significant fourth wave of infection in the range of that experienced in January 2021.

“We can and should be optimistic for an enjoyable summer ahead but, in the meantime, we have to continue to work together to prevent a further wave of infection as we accelerate vaccination across society and maintain our health services.”

Looking at the R number

Nphet have modelled three scenarios of how the vaccination programme will affect case numbers, the first with an R number of roughly 1.3 as it is now, the second with a slight increase in social contacts that produces an R rate of 1.5 and thirdly a more noticeable uptick in social activity that sees the R number rise to 2.

If the R number is maintained at roughly 1.3, cases will slowly increase towards 1,000 cases per day into late June and then the vaccination programme should begin to suppress transmission, with cases falling to 500 per day by the end of July. This would lead to a further 80,000 cases of Covid-19 in the State by September, Prof Nolan said.

If the R number sees even a "very marginal increase" towards 1.5, it will likely lead to a very significant fourth wave of the disease, with roughly 200,000 cases between April 5 and September, Prof Nolan said.

If there is a "medium level of increase" in social contacts that brings the R number to 2, Prof Nolan said that Ireland will see a very significant surge in infections between now and September, leading to a further 500,000 cases.

Prof Nolan says any delay at all in increasing cases will greatly help the overall number of cases Ireland sees before the majority of adults are protected from the disease.

Prof Nolan explained that as the vaccination programme works through the older age groups, mortality will fall dramatically but admissions to hospital and ICU will not decline at the same rate.

Mr Nolan said for every 1,000 people who get the virus, on average 11 will die, but if the entire over-70s population is fully vaccinated, this should drop to two out of every 1,000 people.

"As the vaccination programme proceeds, we will be left with a situation where young people will be getting infected but they will be far less likely to be hospitalised and very unlikely to die," Prof Nolan said.

Easter warning

Meanwhile, An Garda Síochána are appealing to people to reduce their social contacts this Easter Weekend, while reminding citizens that traveling to holiday homes, family gatherings and religious services are “not provided for as a ‘reasonable excuse’ in the regulations”.

Gardaí are reminding people that a breach of the non-essential travel regulations can be subject to a fine of €100 and have stated they will continue their high visibility patrols at public amenities.

Gardaí are also appealing to the public not to arrange or attend house parties or gatherings over this weekend.

“These events put not just those attending, but everyone they meet afterwards, at risk of catching Covid-19. Persons organising and attending house gatherings can be subject to a fine of €500 for organising and a fine of €150 for attending these events,” a Garda spokesperson said.

Deputy Commissioner of Policing and Security, Anne Marie McMahon said gardaí are “acutely aware of the impact Covid-19 on the communities that we live in”.

“Public Health regulations are in place for the protection of the most vulnerable in our society. I appeal to everyone to make that extra effort this Easter weekend to comply with the Regulations, which remain in place. Your actions this weekend could protect a loved family member or dear friend,” Deputy Commissioner McMahon said.

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