Health chiefs have urged the public to make personal judgments about what is “possible, sensible and safe” to do over the Christmas holidays.
HSE boss Paul Reid made a plea to people to keep their number of contacts down and to “be realistic” about this Christmas.
He said the health service is going into Christmas in a much stronger position because of investments and supports that have been put in place to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic.
But he warned that what happens in the next few weeks is “key” to the heath service sustaining a strong position.
This Christmas is a different Christmas, it's a Christmas where we're all living in a global pandemicPaul Reid
“As we head into Christmas and New Year, a very special time, it’s also important that we all be realistic and make very personal judgments about what’s possible, sensible and what’s safe to do in the coming weeks,” Mr Reid said at the HSE’s briefing.
“We want to avoid what I call a dangerous confluence of risks, which would be on a projected high number of cases over the Christmas and New Year periods, but amplified by a high number of contacts for every one of those cases, and all at the same time coming together at the peak of our services.
“We can all kind of look forward to 2021 with greater hope and greater optimism with the vaccine.
“There’s no doubt that the emergence of the vaccine will be good for the health service, will be good for the economy, will be good for society, and it will be good for the public wellbeing.”
He said there has been a slow, downward trend in the number of people admitted to hospital with coronavirus, which was down to 203 on Thursday morning.
Mr Reid said that the number of ICU patients, however, has increased to 37.
Social distancing is important to help slow the spread of #coronavirus— HSE Ireland (@HSELive) December 10, 2020
â keep a space of 2 metres between you & other people
â avoid communal sleeping areas
â avoid crowded places
â avoid close contact with other people
â wear a face covering if you cannot social distance pic.twitter.com/2s0V6oJtDw
He added: “This Christmas is a different Christmas, it’s a Christmas where we’re all living in a global pandemic.
“The personal judgments that we make and how we live, how we visit, how we meet our friends and family over Christmas, will be key to protecting the health service.
“I know some people have an intention and a natural and understandable intention, to say ‘I will have a higher number of contacts for a few days over Christmas, and then I will reduce them rapidly’.
“Unfortunately, the circumstances that we know will happen with that, a high number of contacts will lead to a high spread of the virus.
“A higher number of contacts places a huge demand on our contact testing and tracing, as well as our hospital services.
“Keep all of our contacts to a consistent and low level.”
He said the vaccine gives the country a “strong tool” in the fight against Covid-19, but he said it would be some time before the country sees the benefit from the vaccination programme.
The HSE is also reclassifying partners of pregnant women as an “essential companion”, which allows partners to attend the anomaly scan from next week.
“This is due to the current low levels of Covid infection that we’re experiencing across the community in general,” Mr Reid added.
More than two million tests have been carried out since the outbreak of Covid-19.
Almost 78,500 swabs were completed this week, while demand for community testing has increased by 3% over the last week.
The contact tracing team made more than 8,500 phone calls last week, while there is an average of 3.5 contacts per person.
HSE chief clinical officer Colm Henry said that Ireland has the lowest 14-day incidence rate of Covid-19 in the EU.
It now stands at 80 cases of Covid-19 per 100,000 people.
Fifteen further deaths linked to Covid-19 in Ireland were reported on Thursday, bringing the national toll to 2,117, along with a further 310 new cases.
As of 2pm, there were 202 patients in hospital with Covid-19, including 36 in ICU.
Professor Philip Nolan, chairman of the Nphet Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, said the reproduction number is now estimated to be close to 1.
At Nphet’s press conference on Thursday evening, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan urged the public, with 14 days to go until Christmas, to consider restricting movements now to ensure the “safest possible” interaction with family.
“If we can restrict our individual movements, limit our contacts over the course of the next two weeks, we can really reduce the chance that we as individuals will bring infection into whatever household we’re part of and thereby reduce the risk of transmission,” he said.
Dr Holohan voiced concerns around “intergenerational transmission” over Christmas when families come together, pointing to reports following Thanksgiving in the United States.
Professor Nolan described “stable case counts” over the last three to four weeks, with seven day averages of between 270 and 300.
But he warned of a “high risk” of a surge of the virus in January, and advised caution and limiting numbers of social contacts.