Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer and head of NPHET
The pre-Christmas surge in Covid-19 looks set to force the Government to curtail the Christmas celebrations with the Chief Medical Officer and Head of the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) warning that the virus is spreading everywhere in Ireland.
NPHET has recommended to Government that the Christmas Covid-19 restrictions must be shortened to the end of the year due to a jump in cases. Restrictions to hospitality will be tightened before the end of 2020. Household visits could also be cut to one household visiting another.
Speaking on RTÉ's Six One, Micheál Martin said acknowledged that measures would have to be tightened sooner than planned.
"The anticipated period of going from tomorrow (December 18) to the 6th of January would be shortened."
Mr Martin said the Government will take the recommendation "very seriously" and would decide next Tuesday.
He issued the warning before it was announced that Northern Ireland is to enter a six-week lockdown on St Stephen's Day due to the surge in cases which left ambulances queuing outside a hospital in Co Antrim this week.
Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer, Department of Health, set out the situation in stark terms in NPHET's daily statement on Thursday, December 17.
“The 5-day moving average is 387 per day– this is an indicator that the disease is moving quickly when compared to the previous 5-day average. The virus is spreading throughout the country, in all age groups.
“We are now getting reports of outbreaks in social settings including workplace settings, Christmas parties and funerals. I cannot stress enough how important it is to limit your interactions now. The consequences of not doing so will be exponential growth in January, a substantial increase in hospitalisations and risk to life,” he said.
Dr. Ronan Glynn, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Department of Health, said COVID-19 represents a significant threat to people’s ability to enjoy the Christmas and New Year period.
"Please think about each of your social contacts and consider whether now is the time to be meeting with them. Meet up outside where possible and avoid all crowded settings. If you have symptoms please isolate immediately and contact your GP without delay – do not go to work and do not meet up with other people. If you are identified as a close contact it is vital that you restrict your movements," he said.
Professor Philip Nolan, Chair of the NPHET Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, said the reproduction rate is up.
“The reproduction number is now estimated between 1.1 -1.3. We are concerned that Ireland is now in a phase of rapid growth, which if allowed continue, will result in 700 - 1200 cases per day by the second week in January, if not sooner. We are particularly concerned about older people and vulnerable adults, who have protected themselves through the second wave, and are now at risk during the festive season,” he said.
Dr. Deirdre Mulholland, Director of Public Health, HSE East, said older people are at risk.
“Intergenerational mixing over Christmas, especially in an environment of rapid growth of incidence, poses a significant risk to older and vulnerable people. It is so important to reduce your contacts and follow public health advice now, in order to protect lives,” she said.
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