The transmission of the coronavirus infection within the general population has been “effectively suppressed”, but restrictions as things stand are unlikely to be loosened in 12 days time.
That was the message delivered at the latest nightly briefing by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) in Dublin, on a day when Ireland’s death toll from Covid-19 rose by 28.
There have now been 794 laboratory-confirmed virus deaths in Ireland while a new daily record figure of 936 confirmed cases was also announced, bringing the total number of cases in the Republic to 17,607.
An update was given on the modelling being carried out by the health authorities regarding the spread of the virus in an Irish context, with the heartening news that the reproductive rate of transmission of Covid-19 now stands between 0.5 and 0.8, having fallen further over the past seven days.
That reproductive metric, known as the Ro, measures the number of infections caused by each individual person with the virus. Anything from a score of 1.2 and above would be unsustainable by the Irish health system.
Professor Philip Nolan, chair of NPHET’s Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, gave his weekly update regarding the spread of the disease, saying that “for the population at large, the growth rate is at zero”.
Regarding the fact the Ro continues to decrease, Professor Nolan said “this success emphasises how vital it is to remain vigilant in our behaviours”. “If the R number moves above one, we are no longer in control of the disease,” he said.
He said that “over the past 10 days people have been discharged from hospitals at a faster rate than they’re being admitted”, and that despite the crisis in nursing homes and residential care settings, the numbers seen there are also beginning to decline. He added that the “single best protection” for those in nursing homes is to “remove the virus from the general population”.
At present 433 people, over 50%, have lost their lives in such settings. The figure for nursing homes solely is 361.
Much of the briefing was dedicated to dampening expectations of a lifting in restrictions at the next deadline of May 5. Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan produced a number of graphs detailing how public activity has begun to expand in the last number of days.
'Vast majority of the population is with us'
One of those, from the Irish National Seismic Network showed an increase in footfall across the country in the past two days, while two others showed that both walking and driving are now at their highest levels since the lockdown was introduced on March 27. This has happened despite the fact “our public health advice hasn’t changed”, Dr Holohan said.
He denied that this is an indicator that the authorities are “losing the population”.
“Clearly the vast majority of the population is with us,” he said.
He added, however, that “if we were making the call today, notwithstanding the great progress that has been made, we would not be recommending the loosening of restrictions”.
HSE staff in nursing homes
Regarding the ongoing crisis in nursing homes, and in the context of a survey by sectoral body Nursing Homes Ireland which said that 96% of such settings have seen no impact in terms of “boots on the ground” regarding the option for HSE staff to relocate voluntarily to long-term care facilities, Dr Colm Henry, chief clinical officer with the HSE, said that staff had been provided to 67 homes to date by the 18 area crisis management teams in place.
Meanwhile, the case definition for eligibility for a Covid-19 test is to be discussed at tomorrow’s meeting of NPHET, with an adjustment likely to follow.
Currently Ireland is only testing 5,000 people a week despite having double that capacity, due to the strict qualification metrics in place, which at present means only people with underlying conditions are eligible.