Irish health chief concerned by unexpected rise in COVID-19 cases

A woman wearing a protective face mask walks past writing on a wall reading 'pick up your mask' during the government's highest level of lockdown restrictions, as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak continues in Galway, Ireland

An unexpected 10% rise in the five-day moving average of new COVID-19 cases in Ireland threatens to reverse a recent sharp drop in the incidence rate of the disease to the third-lowest level in Europe, the country’s chief medical officer said on Saturday.

Ireland was among the first European countries to reimpose tough nationwide measures last month to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, with restrictions on travel and the closure of non-essential retail more than halving the 14-day infection rate to 130 cases per 100,000 people.

The number of people infected by someone who has COVID-19 – the so-called R rate – also fell by more than half to 0.6 last month, prompting health officials to predict as recently as Thursday that cases were on track to fall below 100 per day by the time constraints are due to end on Dec. 1.

But infections have begun to tick up since then and the five-day moving average rose to 392 from 354 after the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) reported 456 new cases on Saturday.

“We have seen higher numbers in recent days than we expected based on the encouraging trends of the last three weeks,” Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan said in a statement. “We are concerned that this progress is at risk. NPHET will continue to monitor the situation closely over the coming days.”

Hospital admissions of COVID-19 cases have continued to fall and hit a near one-month low of 254 on Saturday, having remained far below April’s peak of almost 900 throughout Ireland’s second wave of infections.

The rapid fall in cases from a daily record of almost 1,300 on Oct. 18 led to confidence in government last week that restrictions would be eased on schedule in 2-1/2 weeks time and potentially again just before Christmas.

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