Ireland in 'precarious' position in Covid-19 fight, Nphet letter reveals

Ireland in 'precarious' position in Covid-19 fight, Nphet letter reveals

Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer. Picture: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Ireland is in a "precarious" position in the fight against Covid-19 which is why the hospitality sector should not open in December, the Chief Medical Officer told the Government earlier this week.

In the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet)'s stark letter to the Government on the latest coronavirus outlook, Dr Tony Holohan made stark warnings about the impacts that opening up the economy, which the government tonight announced it would do, could have.

The letter says that while case numbers are falling with a reproductive number of just under 1, modelling shows that if this were to rise to 1.2, "the level of disease in January 2021 will present a real and substantial threat to the ongoing protection of public health and of the most vulnerable".

Calling this "optimistically low", Dr Holohan says that it would mean a daily case rate of 400 per day by January meaning that if restrictions were eased a third wave of the virus will "ensue much more quickly and with greater mortality than the second".

The letter recommends:

  • Enhanced Level 3 restrictions for eight weeks from December 1
  • An easing of household visit rules from December 21 to January 3 to allow for Christmas
  • The full reinstatement of Level 3 as soon as possible as "a proactive measure".

In the 36-page letter, Dr Holohan suggests household visits be limited to six people from a maximum of three homes, something the Government rejected, placing no limit on gathering numbers but keeping the household limit.

All non-essential travel to and from Northern Ireland should be avoided due to the Covid situation there, the letter adds. A government recommendation on this will be made on December 18.

Dr Holohan says that there is "growing evidence" that indoor settings like bars and restaurants contribute to viral spread, meaning that the Government must choose between opening the hospitality sector and household visits. 

Nphet further recommended that religious services should only be permitted from December 21 to January 3.

Nphet also expressed "considerable concern" that international travel could undo the good work done over the last five weeks of Level 5.

It finishes by saying: "In conclusion, while significant progress has been in reducing the incidence of the disease, the five-day average rate remains at a high level. 

"Ireland is in a precarious position where we are vulnerable to a sudden, sharp increase in incidence. The advice of Nphet is that we do not have the flexibility to reopen the hospitality sector if we are to ease the prohibition on household visits.

"The health services remain particularly vulnerable...In simple terms, many people may not follow public health advice to limit social activity. A rise in incidence is likely to be compounded by a rise in inter-generational mixing at the Christmas period. This may result in a rise in infection of the most vulnerable.

"It is clear that early action will be necessitated if there is a significant increase in incidence from current levels to ensure that this can be as short as possible."

If cases reach over 400 per day in January, a three-week lockdown will be needed to bring them under control, the letter says.

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