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'Doomsday' scenario is looming as cases rise

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Shoppers wearing masks in Dublin yesterday.

Shoppers wearing masks in Dublin yesterday.

Shoppers wearing masks in Dublin yesterday.

The country may be heading for a "doomsday" Covid-19 crisis level again, it emerged last night.

This is unless a dramatic turnaround is made to halt the rapid deterioration which has led to more illness, hospitalisations and deaths in the past month.

The spread of the virus has escalated further across the country since Sunday when the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) met and recommended the country enter Level 5 lockdown.

The next three weeks are crucial for people to change their behaviour and "save Christmas", the Department of Health's Covid-19 briefing was told.

Deteriorated

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan was giving his first media briefing since his return to his post on Monday and the Government's rejection of the recommendation.

"All key indicators of the disease have deteriorated further in the three days since the last meeting of Nphet on Sunday," he said.

"Covid-19 is spreading in our community in a very worrying manner. We have to break these chains of transmission."

There were 80 Covid-19 patients hospitalised in August, 206 in September and 77 so far in October, he added.

In August, four Covid-19 related deaths were reported, 34 in September and yesterday there were eight already for October.

"Trends in case numbers and incidence are now being reflected in indicators of disease severity," Dr Ronan Glynn, deputy chief medical officer added.

"The number of people in hospital has increased from 122 last Thursday to 156 this afternoon. There are currently 25 people in critical care compared to 20 one week ago."

Prof Philip Nolan of Maynooth University, who tracks the virus, warned that case numbers and hospitalisations are growing exponentially.

The reproductive number is now estimated to be at 1.2.

"If we fail to reduce viral transmission nationwide immediately, we could see up to 1,500 cases per day and 450 people in hospital by November 7," he warned.

A key concern is that if there is a high rate of the virus in December, coupled with inevitable socialising, the country could be engulfed in a major crisis.

"We can still save Christmas, if we do the right thing over the next three weeks," Prof Nolan added.

Dr Siobhán Ni Bhriain, consultant psychiatrist and HSE integrated care lead, said: "I urge everyone to suppress the virus and prevent a surge on hospital demands. Currently, the average length of stay of a Covid-19 patient is 20 days in hospital and 14 days in ICU.

"ICU is the last stop in the care pathway for any illness. Focus on prevention and follow public health advice to ensure care pathways and treatments are available to as many people as possible."

The briefing was told that while there are some signs of stabilisation in Dublin, it is still too early to say if there is a definitive trend. Nphet meets today and will make recommendations about Halloween.

Engulfed

Dr Holohan said the slide into more dangerous levels of the virus is not inevitable and everyone needs to make a collective effort to bring it down.

Asked about Tánaiste Leo Varadkar's claim the Level 5 plan proposal was "not thought through", he said he has since told him that the indicators around the virus had got worse in an "apparently sudden way".

It was not unusual for Nphet to discuss the data on a Sunday as they are "intimately familiar with" such data, he insisted.

Asked if he would have liked an apology, Dr Holohan said: "We had a very good discussion last night and it went on for a considerable period of time."