Cases of Covid-19 are now growing exponentially and every citizen in the State must take immediate action to reduce their contacts or it will not be possible to get the pandemic back under control, Prof Philip Nolan has warned.
Prof Nolan, who is the chair of National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET)’s epidemiological modelling advisory group, delivered a stark presentation to reporters on Wednesday, during which he said the State could be facing more than 1,000 cases per day within weeks.
Another 254 cases, of which 136 were in Dublin, and three further deaths from the virus were confirmed by the Department of Health on Wednesday. Prof Nolan said hospitalisations have increased fourfold since August and are doubling every fortnight.
He said infections were rising across all age groups and that the virus is now well represented among the over 65s. He added there will be higher death rates in the coming weeks unless urgent action is taken.
“Ten per cent of the cases in the last 14 days have been in the over 65s,” he said. “It is simply not possible for us to protect them or for them to protect themselves from a very high level of this disease in the general population.”
Prof Nolan said he was “more concerned at this point in time than I have been at any point in time since late April”. The incidence in Dublin has increased between four and five fold in recent weeks, while it has increased threefold in the country as a whole.
“We believe the reproduction number is somewhere 1.3 and 1.7 in the country as a whole, so this disease is spreading rapidly,” he said. “If we look at the growth rate, it is growing by between 5 and 7 per cent per day. That means the disease is doubling every 10-14 days at this point.
“If the reproduction rate continues at 1.4, by October 14th we would be looking at 500-600 cases per day. All of us need to change our behaviour. If the reproduction rate is higher at 1.8, we would be looking at close to 1,200 cases per day by October 14th.
“What we need to do is get the reproduction rate back below 1. If the reproduction rate does not come back below 1, we will not be able to control this disease, and at whatever rate it occurs, cases numbers will continue to rise.”
Acting chief medical officer Ronan Glynn said society faces a turning point. “There is an onus not just on pubs but on all organisations to do everything in their power to protect their staff, their customers, the members of their sporting organisations.
“As a society, we face a turning point here. We all need to think back to where were in springtime and start to act again as if this virus is around us, because it is around us.
“Collectively, the only way we are going to overcome this is if we all act individually and do the basic things many, many times every day. I know people are tired of hearing it, but it is absolutely essential at this point.
“We need to ration our contacts. For example, if you play sport and go training twice a week and play a match at the weekend, you need to consider the extent to which you want to continue doing that, and, if you do, you need to consider what other element of your life you’re going to reduce your contacts in.
“If we all continue to try to do everything we did in the way that we did it nine months ago, then we will not get this back under control.”
Of the cases notified today, 115 are men, 133 are women and 65 per cent are under 45 years of age. NPHET said 61 per cent are confirmed to be associated with outbreaks or are close contacts of a confirmed case while 24 cases have been identified as community transmission
Aside from Dublin, which made up more than half of cases, there were 20 in Donegal, 13 in Louth, 12 in Wicklow, 9 in Waterford, 7 Carlow, 7 in Cork, 6 in Galway, 5 in Kerry, 5 in Wexford and the remaining 28 cases are located in Clare, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois, Leitrim, Limerick, Longford, Mayo, Monaghan, Offaly, Roscommon and Westmeath.
Dr Colm Henry, chief clinical officer with the HSE, said; “There are currently 73 Covid-19 patients in hospital, nine of these have been admitted in the past 24 hours. Fourteen of these patients are in ICU. We are seeing a sharp increase in the rate of admissions of Covid-19 patients into our acute hospitals. We know that without a reversal of these trends, admissions can escalate rapidly to the point where our healthcare facilities will be under unsustainable pressure. It is more essential than ever that we all adhere to the basic measures which can weaken the virus in the community.”
Dr Mary Favier, Covid-19 advisor to the Irish College of General Practitioners, said: “While we have been conducting a large number of tests on children, thanks to the vigilance of parents around symptoms and contacting GPs with concerns, we have not witnessed a disproportionate rise in the number of confirmed cases in children.”
Figures are being watched closely in the capital. Earlier on Wednesday, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe said there is a “strong” and “very real” possibility that Dublin will be moved to level three in the Government’s plans for coping with the Covid-19 pandemic.
This would mean more severe restrictions for the capital, where there is concern about the increased spread of the disease in recent weeks. Latest figures show that incidence of the disease in the capital is running at about twice the national average.
The figures prompted Dr Glynn to warn the Government last week that the capital had become a “disease reservoir” which could put the whole State at risk.
In a letter last week but released today Dr Glynn suggested that if left unchecked cases could rise in the capital to up to 300 per day by the end of September.
In his advice to Government last week, Dr Glynn said Covid-19 infections in Dublin have the “potential to transmit widely and quickly both within Dublin and to other areas of the country”.