When Ireland emerged from a severe six-week lockdown in December, it had one of the lowest levels of Covid-19 cases in Europe. Since then, the situation has dramatically resolved.
The country recorded the highest infection rate in the world last week, according to Our World in Data, an online scientific publication based at the University of Oxford.
In the seven days leading up to January 10, Ireland reported around 1,323 Covid-19 cases per year. Million people, the statistics showed more than any other country in the same period.
On Friday, it recorded the highest daily rise in infections since the onset of the pandemic with 8,248 new cases, according to a statement from the Irish Department of Health.
“The alarming level of disease is unprecedented in our experience with the levels of Covid-19 in society,” warned Professor Philip Nolan, a member of Ireland’s National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET). “We see the number of cases a day and the number in the hospital that we just could not have understood before Christmas.”
Ireland’s medical experts, politicians and members of the public are now all discussing what went wrong.
The seasonality of the virus, the presence of the more transmissible British variant and households mingling over the holidays, all contributed to the rise, according to a spokesman for Prime Minister Micheál Martin’s office.
The tip is not “simplified,” and there have been a number of factors that have led to it, the spokesman told CNN on Tuesday.
“We had an increase in socializations over the Christmas period, and our public health experts said the seasonality of the virus was a huge factor,” they said.
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Ireland reopened hospitality and other sectors with some restrictions on 4 December. In defense of this decision, the spokesman said the sectors involved “largely” followed public health measures and the incidence of infection was “relatively low” in hospitality, retail and construction settings.
The more contagious UK variant, first discovered in Ireland on Christmas Day, “had a very significant impact [on] growth in cases because it is believed to be between 50% and 70% more transferable, ”the spokesman added.
About 40% of Ireland’s recent positive cases of Covid-19 are caused by the more contagious UK variant, Cillian De Gascun, director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory, said in a statement on Monday.
From 18 December, Irish households were allowed to mingle with up to two others, despite other European countries canceling Christmas gatherings.
More than 54,000 people flew into the Republic of Ireland between December 21 and January 3, according to the Department of Justice.
“There was no properly controlled isolation system in place,” Gabriel Scally, president of epidemiology and public health at the Royal Society of Medicine, told CNN by telephone Tuesday. “Ireland and Britain are failed islands in Covid terms when you look at others. There was an understandable desire for normality during Christmas after a hard year; but the virus does not know.”
Ireland closed restaurants, pubs serving food and some shops on Christmas Eve, and has since further tightened its lockdown measures – including the closure of non-essential construction sites, schools and childcare services.
There are currently 1,582 Covid-19 patients hospitalized in Ireland, of whom 146 are in intensive care, just after the spring peak of 155, according to the health department.
“We know that admissions will take place a few weeks after a confirmed case is reported and mortality after that again,” Ireland chief medical officer Tony Holohan said in a statement on Monday. “This means that we are unfortunately set for a period in which the situation in our hospitals will get worse before it gets better.”
Ireland has only five intensive beds per. 100,000 people, much lower than the OECD22 average of 12 according to OECD data.
So far, the country has reported a total of more than 152,000 cases of Covid-19 and 2,352 deaths, according to a Johns Hopkins University figure.
As for the recent rise, the tools to tackle “this accelerated growth rate” are in the hands of Ireland, according to Nolan, chair of NPHET’s Irish Epidemiological Modeling Advisory Group.
He added that he hoped the current measures would “significantly suppress the transmission of the virus.”