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stark warning Up to 1,000 Covid-19 deaths anticipated this month, Dr Holohan warns in letter to Health Minister

Dr Holohan outlined the sad toll in a letter to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly on January 14.


Dr Tony Holohan said the growth rate of the epidemic has ‘accelerated’ in recent days (Brian Lawless/PA)

Dr Tony Holohan said the growth rate of the epidemic has ‘accelerated’ in recent days (Brian Lawless/PA)

Dr Tony Holohan said the growth rate of the epidemic has ‘accelerated’ in recent days (Brian Lawless/PA)

Up to 1,000 people may die of Covid-19 this month alone, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan has warned.

Dr Holohan outlined the sad toll in a letter to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly on January 14, where he also highlighted the levels of infection among staff involved in home care as well as the need to strengthen efforts to prevent the spread of more infectious forms of coronavirus through incoming traveller from abroad.

The death toll up to yesterday for January reached 485.

Dr Holohan said models suggest that deaths in the community -not including deaths linked to outbreaks in nursing homes and hospitals- will reach a peak of at least 25-30 deaths per day this month.

He said that these levels will persist at least for the rest of January.

"Given the large number of recently notified outbreaks in long term residential care facilities and hospitals, we can, unfortunately, expect to see, in addition, a large scale of mortality in these settings. It is therefore anticipated that a total of at least 500-1,000 deaths may occur in the month of January," he said

He told the minister a concerning new trend being observed is an increase in Covid-19 outbreaks in homecare services reflecting the level of ongoing disease in the community.

These outbreaks not only impact on the ability to ensure service continuity to support people to continue to live in their own homes but also directly increases pressure across all health services including hospital admissions and discharges, and delivery of GP and public health nursing services

"The HSE noted that currently there are approximately 500 homecare workers on COVID-19 related leave."

He said that the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) considered the issue of international travel, having regard to the epidemiological situation in Ireland, the emergence in recent week of variants of concern originating in the UK, South Africa and Brazil, and the measures by the Irish Government and by other states in recent weeks to mitigate the risk of importation of these or other variants which may emerge

“Data on traveller numbers indicates that between 1 December 2020 and 11 January 2021 over 190,000 people arrived into Ireland by air, with 37,000 of these coming from the UK and almost 70pc of the latter number flying from airports in south-east England.

“Some 12,000 people travelled from the USA and data from the Passenger Locator Form system shows that in the last four to five weeks some 1,400 people came from South Africa and over 1,600 from Brazil to Ireland in this context, the NPHET expressed its continuing concern about the risks associated with international travel, whether by Irish residents or by travellers from other countries to Ireland.

"It continues to advise against all non-essential international travel.

“While noting and welcoming the requirement now being provided for in law whereby arriving passengers from all countries will be required to present evidence of a negative/not-detected RT-PCR test result, taken 72 hours prior to arrival to Ireland, the NPHET considered that further measures should be adopted.

"A pre-travel test alone is not a sufficiently robust system for the prevention of disease importation and modelling shows that even the best-performing tests will miss up to 40pc of cases.

"The NPHET noted that in response to the emergence of variant strains, many EU countries have adopted more stringent travel policies to meet these new risks. These include combinations of pre-departure testing, quarantine requirements on arrival and post-arrival testing rules.

"Given the changing epidemiology of the disease and the emergence of new variants internationally, the NPHET reiterated its ongoing concern and prior recommendations with regard to overseas travel.

"It continues to advise against all non-essential travel and recommends that every effort be made to ensure that discretion as it currently applies to the need for resensure that discretion as it currently applies to the need for restriction of movements and PCR-testing post-arrival in Ireland is removed.

"Having regard to the variants of concern originating from the UK and South Africa, travellers from these countries should continue to complete a full 14 days’ self-isolation in conjunction with a “Day 5” test which is available from the HSE.

"The NPHET, of course, remains available to provide any further advice and recommendations that may be of assistance to you and Government in relation to ongoing decision-making processes in respect of the COVID-19 pandemic."

Referring to vaccine roll out he said NPHET underscored the importance of adhering to the vaccine allocation strategy and vaccinating groups in order of priority, targeting those at greatest risk of severe illness and death in the first instance.

The NPHET considered that equity is a critical consideration in the context of the distribution and administration of the vaccine.

"Vaccinating groups in order of priority will strengthen the legitimacy of, and public trust in, the vaccination rollout. Vaccinating groups out of sequence could have the unfortunate consequence of undermining trust in the fairness of the process.

"There was a recognition that the framework needs to be adaptable to the particular set of circumstances that pertain at the time of vaccine distribution and that there should be ongoing assessment of allocation priorities as new data becomes available."

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