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31st Dec 2020

CMO: “Substantial socialisation” the main reason for increased rate of Covid-19 cases

Paddy McKenna

“We have an opportunity to take actions that can turn around these patterns of transmission.”

Ireland’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Tony Holohan says that “socialisation that we’ve done over the course of the last number of weeks” has led to the recent increase in Covid-19 cases.

Yesterday the Republic of Ireland recorded 13 deaths and 1718 new cases of the virus with a daily growth rate in cases of between 7-10%.

Speaking on Morning Ireland on RTÉ Radio 1, the CMO said that the eased restrictions at the beginning of December were the root cause for the surge.

“We know that there’s been a substantial amount of activity took place in the days and weeks following that easing of restrictions,” Dr. Holohan told Rachel English.

“We know that the average number of contacts, we track this kind of information, that each case is identifying, has increased sharply to levels that we haven’t seen since the beginning of this pandemic.

“And we engaged in an amount of social activity across society that really provided this opportunity for the virus to transmit at the levels we’re now seeing. So we have a level of unsustainable growth in the level of infection, albeit still lower than the rest of Europe is experiencing, but one that really creates a risk. The basic objectives that we’ve been able to protect as a society over the course of the second wave, while protecting public health – like keeping our schools going, like keeping our health services free of Covid so that they can after other health needs, like keeping childcare going and protecting people who are vulnerable.

“So the measures that are now in place provide us all with an opportunity as individuals to do the very, very basic things – to stay at home and to not leave home other than for essential reasons and that’s for essential retail, for essential work, if you can’t work from home, and for exercise within a short distance, within 5kms of your home.”

He also explained how the pattern of transmission is different to the second wave of the virus, with much earlier transmission into older age groups.

“That significant increase, a sharp increase, in the week before Christmas, which has been sustained, is now translating unfortunately into a significant increase in hospitalisations and we simply must do something about that.”

When asked about how much impact the new, more transmissible Covid variant, first identified in the UK, has had on the spread of the virus, Dr. Holohan, whilst acknowledging the presence of that strain in Ireland, referred back to other factors that have led to the recent surge in cases.

“But we know that we’ve done a substantial amount of socialisation in the country and the socialisation that we’ve done over the course of the last number of weeks has provided more than ample opportunity for this virus to spread in the patterns that have been seen.

“Every person listening has an opportunity now to look at their behaviour, to look at their plans over the course of the next number of weeks, as we head into the new year tonight and then into the early days of the new year, and then with the resumptions of schools on the 11th of January, we have an opportunity to take actions that can turn around these patterns of transmission.”

On Wednesday the government reintroduced full Level 5 restrictions for the entire country until the end of January.

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