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*Photograph: John Mangan

Clare has recorded 51 new cases of COVID-19 as the virus continues to grow across the country.

Nationwide, 1,620 further confirmed cases have been announced by the Department of Health. 498 in Dublin, 203 in Limerick, 89 in Galway, 73 in Cork, 67 in Mayo, 51 in Clare and the remaining 639 cases are spread across all other counties.

As a result of the latest increase, Clare’s 14 day incidence rate per 100k of the population stands at 221.4 which is the sixteenth highest in the country.

An additional twelve deaths have been notified to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre. Speaking at Thursday’s press briefing, Professor Phillip Nolan observed that the amount of deaths were increasing.

Over the past 24 hours, 58 hospitalisations were reported. Data from 2pm on Thursday indicate that 490 persons are being treated for Coronavirus in Irish hospitals with 42 of these in ICU.

“We are once again in the mitigation stage of this pandemic. The alarming escalation in the incidence of the virus in the general population gives great cause for concern. This disease is now widespread in our communities and as a result we are asking everyone to behave as if they are a close contact,” Chief Medical Officer, Dr Tony Holohan stated.

Close contacts of confirmed cases are no longer being advised to get tested and instead are asked to restrict their movements and contact their GP immediately if they develop symptoms. “Testing and tracing is an exercise in containment and we are no longer in a containment phase,” Dr Holohan explained. The average number of contacts per case has risen from 2.5 in November to an average in recent days of 6.3.

Pressure on the public health system “is not sustainable,” Chief Clinical Officer with the HSE, Dr Colm Henry flagged. “The reintroduction of Level 5 restrictions is essential to protect our vital public services such as hospital admissions and non-COVID care and to have the maximum impact in shortest possible timeframe to minimise the spread of this disease”.

Chair of the NPHET Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, Prof Phillip Nolan highlighted that the virus “is spreading rapidly amongst all age groups, increasing the risk to those most vulnerable to severe infection, such as the medically vulnerable and people over 60 years of age. The reproduction number is at least 1.6-1.8. The daily growth rate is estimated now at 7%-10% giving a doubling time of 7-10 days or less”.

Nolan continued, “We project significant further increase in cases and hospitalisations in the coming days before public health measures take effect and are likely to see over 700-1000 people in hospital with COVID-19 early in the New Year”.

Prof. Karina Butler, Chair of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee confirmed the roll out of the national vaccination programme is underway. “Once additional COVID-19 vaccines have been authorised, it will be possible to increase the capacity of vaccine availability across the country. The vaccine is a vital tool in our strategy to protect us against COVID-19 infection and it goes hand in hand with the public health measures on handwashing, social distancing and staying at home”.

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