‘We’re in fourth gear - we need sixth': New figures show almost 400 Covid-related deaths in Cork

‘We’re in fourth gear - we need sixth': New figures show almost 400 Covid-related deaths in Cork

The Cabinet is expected to meet on Tuesday to rubber-stamp any changes to current restrictions.Photograph: Sasko Lazarov / RollingNews.ie

ALMOST 400 deaths related to Covid-19 have now been reported in Cork since the beginning of the pandemic.

New figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) show that there had been a total of 396 Covid-19-related deaths in Cork up to and including March 19.

The median age of those who have died in Cork since the beginning of the pandemic is 84.

Nationally, the total number of Covid-19 deaths which were reported up to that date was 4,314, with a further 262 deaths cited as having probable links to the virus.

The CSO figures show that a total of 21,555 Covid-19 cases were reported in Cork during the same period and the median age of cases was 38.

The number of new cases reported in Cork has continued to decline steadily since last month, with 86 new cases recorded in the week ending March 19, down from 139 cases recorded the previous week.

The latest figures come at a time when concerns are being voiced about the daily incidence rate of Covid-19 nationally.

Ramping up response 

Speaking to The Echo, Cork-based expert in the field of infectious diseases and AXA research chair of applied pathogen ecology at University College Cork, Gerry Killeen, said that Ireland’s response to Covid-19 will need to be ramped up if the country is to eliminate the B117 variant, which he described as a “very different customer” in terms of transmissibility.

He said he felt that “a lack of leadership” meant “a lot of people are demoralised simply because they don’t see a plan that makes sense”.

Prof. Gerry Killeen, AXA Research Chair in ApplieD Pathogen Ecology, UCC.Picture Denis Minihane.
Prof. Gerry Killeen, AXA Research Chair in ApplieD Pathogen Ecology, UCC.Picture Denis Minihane.

Prof Killeen added: “Why would you not see your buddies for a coffee when there are thousands of people flying in every week?”

A strong advocate for taking a zero-covid approach to the outbreak, Prof Killeen said he felt that the current level of restrictions across the country “is not in level 5”.

“We’re in level 4-ish and we’ve reopened the schools, so where’s the surprise,” he asked.

It’s all the workplaces that are open quietly; it’s the little shops that put their outdoor seating back out and you find teenagers congregating around them; it’s the mixing of households; it’s all basic stuff that you could easily deal with, with a little bit of decisiveness and action.

“Basically, we’re in fourth gear, we need sixth. We’ve never gone into sixth gear,” he said.

Prof Killeen also said he believes that the country is “already in a fourth wave” but that the question is “how big it will get”.

“There’s been a trend there for two weeks and you’ve got phased reopening of schools that go through two-week cycles so we’ve got at least another two weeks of upward trends locked in but we don’t know what that looks like,” he said.

While the Department of Health and the HSE have reaffirmed that schools in themselves are low-risk environments for Covid-19, Prof Killeen said that he feels that “the whole business of ‘schools are safe’ is nothing short of science fiction”.

“With previous variants the last time around, I wasn’t worried so much about the kids themselves as what happens to the broader community when you reopen schools because it always makes its way into households with vulnerable people, but this time around we’ve got variants that we know are particularly more virulent in younger age groups,” he said.

Not uncontainable

He added that the bad news is that the B117 variant is “a very different customer” in terms of transmissibility and virulence but the good news is “if it was uncontainable we would know about that a long time ago”.

“If B117 was uncontainable we really would have gone into a forced surge in late January but it isn’t uncontainable and we have contained it before.”

He said the important message is that containing and eliminating Covid-19 is still an option and that having a summer is still an option but that “it won’t happen by itself and won’t happen easily”.

Return to normality? 

Meanwhile, an associate professor in the School of Biochemistry and Immunology at Trinity warned people in Cork that Ireland may not see a return to normality until next year.

Trinity professor Tomás Ryan shared his thoughts on Covid-19 as part of an online meeting which was organised by Cork Labour Party.

Prof Ryan said that the new variants of Covid-19 make it difficult to determine what life will look like in the coming months.

“There is a limit on this pandemic and vaccines are eventually going to solve it, but we don’t know how long it’s going to take and that’s currently because of the new variants,” said Prof Ryan.

“Vaccine uptake itself is not going to be as quick as we [would] like. If we rely on vaccines, we’re going to start seeing normality realistically around October. It won’t be a completely normal Christmas. Full normality, maybe in 2022,” he said. However, in 2022 face masks may still be a necessity, according to the professor.

We’ll still be wearing masks because the world won’t be vaccinated, even if most of Ireland is, and there will still be new variants.

Professor Ryan hopes people will be vaccinated by autumn.
Professor Ryan hopes people will be vaccinated by autumn.

He said he is hopeful that most of the adult population will be vaccinated by September or October.

“Then it’s going to be in a zone where we’re not going to be under the immediate fear of the kind of surges that we see, but we will be very cautious as a world, as a country, for a long time after that,” he said.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) is to meet in the coming days to discuss the current situation.

It will then advise the Government around whether some restrictions could be lifted next month.

The Cabinet is expected to meet on Tuesday to rubber-stamp any changes to current restrictions.

Last night, 584 new Covid-19 cases and 20 additional deaths related to the virus were reported.

Of the deaths reported, 11 occurred in March, three in February, and six in January.

The median age of those who died was 73 years, while 16 new cases of the virus were reported in Cork.

A total of 229 cases of the virus were reported in the county in the 14 days to March 25.

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