The country recorded the highest infection rate in the world last week, according to the online publication Our World in Data, based at Oxford University.
In the seven days to January 10, Ireland reported about 1,323 cases of Covid-19 per million people, according to statistics, more than any other country for the same period.
On Friday, it recorded the highest daily growth in infections since the beginning of the pandemic with 8,248 new cases, according to a statement from the Irish Health Department.
“The alarming level of the disease is unprecedented in our experience with Covid-19 levels in the community,” warned Professor Philip Nolan, a member of the Irish National Emergency Public Health Team (NPHET). “We see a number of cases a day and those in the hospital that we just couldn̵
Irish medical experts, politicians and the public are already discussing what went wrong.
The seasonality of the virus, the presence of a more transmissible variant in the United Kingdom and households mingling during the holidays have contributed to the wave, according to a spokesman for Prime Minister Michael Martin’s office.
The jump is not “simplified” and there are a number of factors that led to it, a spokesman told CNN on Tuesday.
“We had an increase in socialization over the Christmas period and our public health experts said the seasonality of the virus was a huge factor,” they said.
On 4 December, Ireland reopened hospitality and other sectors with some restrictions. In defense of this decision, the spokesman said that the affected sectors “generally” adhere to public health measures and the incidence of infections is “relatively low” in the hotel, trade and construction settings.
The more contagious version in the UK, first discovered in Ireland at Christmas, “had a very significant impact [on] the increase in cases, as it is estimated to be between 50% and 70% more transmitted, “the spokesman added.
More than 54,000 people flew into the Republic of Ireland between December 21 and January 3, according to the Department of Justice.
“There was no properly managed isolation system,” Gabriel Scully, president of the Royal Society of Medicine’s epidemiology and public health, told CNN by telephone on Tuesday. “Ireland and Britain are failed islands from Covid’s point of view when you look at others. There was an understandable desire for normalcy over Christmas after a difficult year; but the virus doesn’t know that.”
On Christmas Eve, Ireland closed restaurants, pubs offering food and some shops and has since further tightened its blockade measures – including the closure of minor construction sites, schools and childcare.
There are currently 1,582 Covid-19 patients hospitalized in Ireland, 146 of whom are in intensive care, shortly after the spring peak of 155, according to the health department.
“We know that hospitalizations occur a few weeks after notification of a confirmed case, and mortality then again,” Ireland’s chief medical officer Tony Holohan said in a statement Monday. “This means that, unfortunately, we are set for a period of time in which the situation in our hospitals deteriorates before it improves.”
So far, the country has reported a total of more than 152,000 Covid-19 cases and 2,352 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University estimates.
As for the recent jump, the tools to deal with “this accelerated growth rate” are in Ireland’s hands, according to Nolan, who chairs the Irish NPHET Epidemiological Modeling Advisory Group.
He added that he hoped the current measures would “significantly suppress the transmission of the virus”.
Kara Fox, Ivana Kotasova, Niam Kennedy and Blathnaid Healy contributed to this report