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Virus reproductive rate stable while hospital admissions halve, minister says

Health Minister Simon Harris told the Dail that the number of Covid-19 related admissions to hospital and intensive care units decreased

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Minister for Health Simon Harris (Handout)

Minister for Health Simon Harris (Handout)

Minister for Health Simon Harris (Handout)

The infection rate for Covid-19 in Ireland is now considered stable, while admissions to hospitals and ICUs have halved since last week, the Health Minister has said.

Simon Harris’s comments came as professor Philip Nolan, who leads a team modelling Covid-19 trends in Ireland, said the main measuring tools indicated the reproduction number – the number of people an infected person infects – was now between 0.5 and 0.6.

Health Minister Simon Harris told the Dail on Thursday that the reproduction number was “stable”.

“Last week, hospital admissions were at around 40 per day, whereas this week it is around 20 per day,” he added.

“Last week, ICU admissions were at about 4-6 per day – modelling now shows it is at two per day this week.”

Ireland’s coronavirus death toll rose to 1,403 on Thursday after a further 29 deaths were announced.

There were 137 new confirmed cases of the virus, taking the total in Ireland since the outbreak began to 22,385.

At the daily Covid-19 briefing by members of the National Public Health Emergency Team, Professor Nolan said there had been “very considerable progress” in efforts to suppress the disease in the last week.

“We’re seeing a very significant reduction in the number of people who this disease is sufficiently severe for them to require hospitalisation or intensive care admission,” he said.

He said the 137 new infections reported on Thursday was the lowest number in “a very long time”.

Professor Nolan credited the lockdown measures with achieving the reduction in the key indicators of the disease.

“So all indicators are that the suppression measures taken on March 28 have been very effective in suppressing the spread of the virus within the population,” he said.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan told the briefing he was hopeful that enough further progress could be made in suppressing the disease to enable Ireland’s phased emergence from lockdown to begin, as scheduled, on May 18.

Earlier, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dail that Ireland is moving slower than other countries when it comes to lifting restrictions.

He said: “It is true we are slower than countries much less affected than us like Australia, New Zealand, and slower than countries much worse affected than us, like Spain and Belgium.

“I would rather have a plan that we accelerate if things go well, than one we might have to pause, or draw out, or go back on, if they don’t.”

He said: “The stakes are too high to rush things now.”

Meanwhile, a medical expert said it is not enough to just flatten the curve when it comes to coronavirus.

Professor of general practice Liam Glynn told Newstalk FM that Ireland should not be satisfied with only lowering the level of Covid-19 transmission.

He said: “We have come a long way in terms of the flattening the curve, and all the signals in terms of hospitalisations and intensive care admissions all seem to be dropping. The question now is where we are going?

“It is not just enough to flatten the curve, in my view, I think we really need to be talking about crushing this curve and trying to eliminate Covid-19 entirely.”

Prof Glynn said Ireland has an advantage in combating the virus, as it is an island.

“We have the advantage of trying to figure out how we do trade and travel across a border, and how we do it safely. If we go for elimination, the only way the virus can get on to this island is by importation,” he added.

PA