DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland is in the grip of a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and a rapid acceleration in the growth of cases is of very grave concern, senior health officials said on Monday.
Ireland has the lowest incidence rate of COVID-19 in the European Union after moving early in October to temporarily shut shops, bars and restaurants. Unlike much of Europe, they have largely been open again during December.
However cases have risen rapidly in recent days with more than 700 daily cases reported in successive days for the first time since late October, almost doubling the five-day average to 616 in the space of just four days.
"This is clearly a rapidly increasing incidence in what is now a third wave happening much, much sooner after the last one," Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan told a news conference.
"It's really important that people stay at home. The situation has changed and is changing very, very quickly."
Ministers will meet on Tuesday to discuss new constraints. Prime Minister Micheal Martin said on Thursday that restaurants and pubs were likely to be shut before New Year's Eve and household mixing limited. National broadcaster RTE reported on Monday that this could be brought forward to Christmas Eve.
The head of Ireland's COVID-19 modeling group, Philip Nolan, said that case numbers were growing by at least 5-7% per day and, "of particular concern, across all age groups".
The number of people in Ireland infected by someone who has COVID-19 - the so-called reproduction number - could be as high as 1.5 to 1.6 as a result, he added.
The discovery of a highly infectious new strain of the virus in Britain has forced many countries, including Ireland, to close their borders to Britain.
The officials said that the variant has not been detected in Ireland but cannot exclude the possibility that it is already in the country given the close travel ties with its closest neighbour, including the return of thousands of Irish people living in Britain for the Christmas holidays in recent days.
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Susan Fenton and Angus MacSwan)
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