As fresh Level 5 restrictions come into effect amid record case numbers, here are five key points from the last Department of Health briefing of 2020.
4,000 additional cases in system
Prof Philip Nolan said that there are as many as 4,000 additional positive cases in the system, which have yet to be reported.
He said in recent days over the festive period, there were "very few people" presenting for tests, which meant fewer positive tests coming from labs.
He said they estimate there is "somewhere in the region of 4,000 positive tests" reported in the past 2-3 days which have yet to be formally confirmed as cases.
"Simply put, this system was not designed to report 2/3/4,000 tests per day, and it is going to take several days to confirm all of those cases," he said.
'We're in for difficult weeks ahead’ Setting out recent trends in #Covid19, Prof Philip Nolan (@President_MU) says the actual situation is even worse than the latest figures show, and we should expect to see very high numbers of cases in the coming days | https://t.co/pO7lVq2dTO pic.twitter.com/f6i9lAcHZ5— RTÉ News (@rtenews) December 31, 2020
Close contacts will not be tested
The Chief Medical Officer said that close contacts of a confirmed case are now not advised to seek a Covid-19 test.
However, they are still told to restrict their movements for 14 days, and contact their GP immediately if they develop symptoms.
Dr Tony Holohan, @CMOIreland, says for the next period of time close contacts of confirmed #Covid19 cases will not be advised to be tested, but should restrict their movements for 14 days | https://t.co/pO7lVq2dTO pic.twitter.com/iK3dlWw3GO— RTÉ News (@rtenews) December 31, 2020
"We are once again in the mitigation stage of this pandemic," said Dr Tony Holohan.
"To support the testing system through this surge, we are no longer advising close contacts of confirmed cases to get tested. Testing and tracing is an exercise in containment and we are no longer in a containment phase. However, it is imperative that if you are a close contact of a confirmed case you restrict your movements and contact your GP immediately if you develop symptoms," he said.
'It's clear we're not in a containment phase any longer', @CMOIreland says, as he sets out the rationale behind the decision to pause testing of close contacts. We are now in a mitigation phase in the fight against #Covid19, he says | https://t.co/pO7lVq2dTO pic.twitter.com/Wr7flWQMnf— RTÉ News (@rtenews) December 31, 2020
HSE says that the text message for close contacts will now advise a person that they are a close contact and that they should restrict their movements and should they show symptoms they should immediately contact their GP to arrange a test.— Fergal Bowers (@FergalBowers) December 31, 2020
Pressure on health system
The current rates of transmission are putting severe pressure on health services, according to the HSE's Dr Colm Henry.
Prof Philip Nolan said the R number remains at least 1.6-1.8, while the growth rate stood at 7% to 10%.
Even if we suppressed the virus and brought the R number below 1, he said a peak of between 700-1,000 people in hospital was expected by mid-January.
He said if we fail to suppress it, then we would face "an intolerable situation" in hospitals.
"The number of cases are so high that we are experiencing delays in reporting them," he said.
"We must suppress transmission. There is no alternative," he said.
Recent positive cases had up to 30 close contacts
Dr Tony Holohan said some examples of recent cases of Covid-19 have shown that 20 or 30 close contacts were identified.
"Clearly not in any way following the public health advice," he said.
Everyone should behave as if they are a close contact now, added Dr Holohan.
'This is not a time for gatherings of any kind indoor or outdoor', @CMOIreland says, noting that some people who have tested positive for #Covid19 recently have identified 20-30 close contacts, 'clearly not in any way following public health advice' | https://t.co/pO7lVq2dTO pic.twitter.com/Zwwl74eaCb— RTÉ News (@rtenews) December 31, 2020
52,000 would be eligible for testing under current criteria
If everybody was referred for testing based on the criteria that existed today, the HSE's Chief Clinical Officer Dr Colm Henry said there would be 52,000 people referred for testing.
He said this is "not sustainable".
The sheer number of close contacts identified is now so high, that it is putting intense pressure on the testing and tracing system.
This goes some way towards explaining why health authorities decided to scale back testing of close contacts.