Scientists believe “smart-zoning” would help tackle Ireland’s growing Covid-19 numbers if cases were managed outside the parameters of county boundaries.
They say outbreaks across counties are often linked because people may live in one region but work, shop and socialise in another. They say linking such areas would make it easier to manage the spread of Covid-19.
Mathematical scientist Paul Dempsey (inset), of data analysis firm Dazult, has been tracking and modelling Covid-19 in Ireland using health, Central Statistics Office (CSO) and mobile data. He has found large parts of Offaly were unaffected by outbreaks more than 20km away when it was locked-down with Kildare and Laois during summer, with residents feeling hard done by with the imposition of restrictions.
CSO and mobile data identifies where people live, work or travel. He said how this corresponds with information on where Covid-19 outbreaks happen would help identify areas where tighter restrictions are necessary without imposing on people unaffected by outbreaks.
“The CSO know where people work and travel. They could create proper containment zones based on where outbreaks happen.
“Smart-zoning, making sure we aren’t inconveniencing people but putting restrictions where they are needed, seems more effective. If many people live in Ennis but work in Limerick, Clare and Limerick should be one zone, and it could be the case that parts of north Clare could be paired with Galway with many people travelling between the two.
“If we had done the smart-zoning stuff back in May we would not be in the situation we are in now.”
University College Cork Professor Gerry Killeen, who is the research chair in applied pathogen ecology at the school of biological, earth and environmental sciences, said smart-zoning has worked elsewhere.
In Australia, residents in northern Victoria are linked with New South Wales to help limit how people are inconvenienced by restrictions. He said similar measures could be used in hotspot areas here.
“Lifford and Derry would benefit by being linked in such a way because of the fluidity of movement there but the politics of the situation probably prevent that at present. Some of these decisions would have to be depoliticised to work effectively,” he said.
“It means you are shrinking the area where you are doing the intensive work and the smaller the area is the easier it is to manage in terms of restrictions and public health work.”
Dempsey’s data suggest new daily case numbers would rise to 3,000 in a month if new restrictions are not introduced and adhered to. His model has predicted 2,300 daily cases by October 31. Nphet says it estimates 1,800 to 2,500 daily cases by Halloween. It estimated there would be 400 people hospitalised with the virus by then. On average there were more than 950 daily cases last week, with 246 people in hospital on Friday with Covid-19.
“It is reasonable to expect we would have 550 cases in hospital at that stage, assuming there is no change in restrictions and how they are adhered to and the age profile remains the same,” said Dempsey.