Up to 25% of people could be close contacts during Covid infection peak, Nphet warns

Up to one-quarter of people in the country could be deemed as close contacts of a confirmed Covid-19 case at any given time during a peak of infections, the State’s public health team has warned.

In a letter to Government, the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) warned that at a peak of infections, between 2 per cent and 5 per cent of the population could be infected with Covid-19 at any one time, and between 6 per cent and 25 per cent could be a close contact of an infected person.

“The consequences of this for essential services and the wider economy are significant. The risk of excess demand for healthcare is difficult to estimate, but is considered very high,” chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan wrote in the letter.

He warned that as the new Omicron Covid-19 variant becomes dominant, any accompanying surge of disease will be “amplified by increased effective social contact over the Christmas period”.

In the letter, the Government was told it has been difficult to model the possible impact of the Omicron variant on levels of infection and severe illness.

“The emerging data from, for instance, South Africa, Denmark and the United Kingdom suggest that the growth rate and speed at which Omicron can spread is greater than early estimates, and this means that the level of infection may exceed that anticipated in our earlier scenario models,” the letter stated.

Dr Holohan said that under optimistic scenarios at the peak of infections there will be between 8,000 and 10,000 cases per day, 500-750 people will need general hospital care for Covid-19, and 150-250 people will need critical care, or some 650-1,000 people in total in hospital.

“The more pessimistic scenarios show in excess of 20,000 cases per day, over 1,500 people requiring general hospital care, and in excess of 400 people requiring critical care, or more than 2,000 people in total in hospital overall at peak.”

Potential transmissibility

Dr Holohan said the level of concern is “heightened as further evidence in relation to the potential increased transmissibility and immune escape of the Omicron variant is becoming available”.

Dr Holohan said that reduced operating hours for hospitality and indoor events would “significantly lessen the substantial volume of high-risk social contact taking place in these settings”.

Nphet recommended a new closing time of 5pm for such venues and events, but the Government on Friday opted to set this at 8pm instead.

The letter accepted that closing hospitality at 5pm would “result in some element of displacement of socialisation into private households”, but said “the displacement is likely to result in substantially less social contact overall than would occur in restaurants and bars operating as they do at present”.

Nphet also advised people to keep gatherings small and to take particular cognisance of protecting those aged 50 and older and those with underlying conditions who may not yet have received their booster vaccine.

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