Ireland's COVID-19 reproduction rate falls, hospital admissions slow

FILE PHOTO: A man wearing a protective face mask walks past shuttered businesses in an empty city centre shopping street as the government announced they were moving the country to its highest level of restrictions, Level 5, for six weeks as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak continues, in Galway, Ireland, October 20, 2020. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

DUBLIN (Reuters) - The number of people in Ireland infected by someone who has COVID-19 fell to close to 1.0 from 1.3 to 1.4 a week ago, the head of Ireland's COVID-19 modeling group said on Friday, as admissions to hospital also showed signs of stabilising.

The government has been tightening curbs to slow the spread of the virus since mid-September, when indoor restaurant and bar service was banned in Dublin. The same measures were rolled out across the country on Oct. 5, and then last week all non-essential retail was shut and restaurants limited to takeaway service.

Daily cases hit their highest rate since the pandemic began on Oct. 18, three days before the introduction of 'Level 5' restrictions, the highest level of constraint, but have begun falling over the past 10 days.

"This is the first time in three months that I've been able to report positive indications that we are starting to suppress transmission of the virus," Professor Philip Nolan, Chair of the Irish Epidemiological Modeling Advisory Group, told a news conference.

Nolan has said the so-called "reproduction rate" must be cut to 0.5 for six weeks to reduce cases below 200 per day and keep them there for a sustained period. Ireland reported 772 new cases on Friday.

That reduced the number of cases per 100,000 people in the past 14 days for the fourth successive day to 287.1, the 11th lowest rate among the 31 countries monitored by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

Health officials said Ireland was one of only four countries monitored by the ECDC whose seven-day incidence has fallen in the past week. The average number of contacts per confirmed case has also fallen to just over 2 from 6 in September.

Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan said while there was no question things were improving, the incidence rate was rising in older age groups, who are more vulnerable to developing severe symptoms.

The head of Ireland's health service operator also said that he was apprehensive about the lag effect older people getting the disease may have on the number of COVID-19 patients in hospital, which has been broadly stable for the past 10 days.

(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Rosalba O'Brien)

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