The median age of those who have died from Covid-19 is in "the late 80s", the acting Chief Medical Officer has said.
And 90% of those who died also had underlying conditions at the time of their deaths, Dr Ronan Glynn added.
But despite this, Dr Glynn and other health officials appearing at the Oireachtas Covid committee insist the virus poses a real risk to young people.
In a robust exchange with Fianna Fáil TD Jim O’Callaghan, Dr Glynn said the median age of those who died is near 90.
“I would have to get the specific figures but it is in the late 80s,” Dr Glynn told Mr O’Callaghan.
Mr O’Callaghan asked what percentage of those who died had underlying conditions, Dr Glynn responded: “I would have to get the specific figures but it is in the late 80s."
He pointed to a “significant reduction” in the death rate from Covid-19 in the last three months
Mr O’Callaghan said, “For example, in March 2020, there were 85 deaths; April, 1,176; May, 385; June, 88; July, 29; August, 14; and in September, it appears that there will be 27, depending on what Dr. Glynn announces later this evening.
"To what does he attribute the remarkable decline in deaths over the past three months?”
Dr Glynn responded by saying: “I attribute it to the remarkable decline in the number of cases and the changing demographic of the cases. Some attribution must also be given to increased knowledge and better management of cases. However, I wish to make it very clear that if we see a sustained increase in the number of cases, particularly among those who are vulnerable, we will see more deaths in this country.”
Mr O’Callaghan said that while we have seen an “exponential growth” in the number of cases, we have not seen a similar growth in deaths. He asked Dr Glynn was he correct.
“Yes, we would not have expected to see that, but we expect to see it if the current pattern continues and if we see that growth in the number of cases in particular demographics, and those with particular vulnerabilities,” Dr Glynn replied.
Mr O’Callahgan then asked when Dr Glynn expects to see the increase in deaths if the exponential increase in cases continues.
“We have already seen an increase. We expect to see that continue and increase significantly over the coming weeks. We have had four additional admissions to critical care in the past 24 hours,” the acting CMO replied.
Another witness for the National Public Health Emergency Team, Professor Philip Nolan appeared to take issue with Mr O’Callaghan’s robust questioning. Refusing to speculate what the number of deaths is likely to be in October, Prof Nolan said the risk to young people remains high.
“No, as Dr Glynn said, it would not be appropriate to comment. However, I am surprised by the line of narrative. One must compare like with like. We had huge outbreaks in nursing homes in April and May, and we do not have those now, so let us take those deaths out. The case fatality rate for those aged over 75 was 20% back then. The mortality rate for those aged over 75 since August is 5%,” he said.
“Let us be clear that we are seeing very few cases in older people yet, but the risk of those people dying when they catch the virus remains very high. It was artificially high back in April and May, because we were not detecting mild or moderate disease in those older people. Now that we are detecting the vast majority of cases, we are seeing something close to the true infection fatality ratio of approximately 5%. It would be very dangerous, therefore, to underestimate the capacity of this virus to kill people when it infects them,” he added.
“We have seen 269 hospitalisations since the beginning of August. Of those, 153 patients are aged under 65, and 56 are under 40. The virus is as virulent as it always was, but the difference now is that we are detecting more mild and moderate disease, which we were missing in April and May. When severe disease occurs, it is as dangerous as it always was."