The numbers of healthcare workers and patients contracting the disease in healthcare settings is the highest it has been since the beginning of the pandemic.
Health officials are concerned about the spread of the disease in residential and healthcare settings and among people aged over 65, as the virus remains at “exceptionally high levels in the community”.
This comes as Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said in the Dáil today that a third of Covid-19 patients in hospital contracted the virus while in hospital.
Speaking in the Dáil, he said that people may be admitted to hospital without being positive for Covid-19 and get infected afterwards.
He was responding to questions from Independent TD Denis Naughten, who said that hospitals are “a reservoir” for coronavirus infection and asked if there is “anyone” controlling and managing hospital outbreaks.
Mr Varadkar admitted that “most” deaths take place in nursing homes and hospitals.
“Most deaths sadly occur in nursing homes and in hospitals and it seems that as many as a third of [coronavirus] patients in hospital got Covid in hospital, didn’t come in Covid positive, they picked up Covid while in the hospital,” he said.
“Some of them may not be sick as a result, they may be sick for a different reason, but it still is a matter of real concern.”
“Hospitals should be about making people better, not picking up a virus that could be deadly,” Deputy Naughten responded.
The Dáil also heard that the country is “nowhere near” the easing of Level 5 restrictions.
The Cabinet is due to make a decision next week if the current lockdown is to be extended, however Mr Varadkar said that it is “fair” to say that the country is “nowhere near where we need to be” before easing restrictions.
“Things are starting to fall slightly in terms of cases and hospitalisations but at the pace we would like,” said the Tánaiste.
“While no decision has yet been made on restrictions, that decision will be made by Cabinet next week, I think it’s fair to say we are nowhere near where we need to be at present to ease Level 5 restrictions.”
Concerns about compliance with restrictions by people travelling into the country were also raised by Social Democrat co-leader Catherine Murphy.
She said that between December 11 and January 3, 118,000 passengers arrived by air and a further 20,000 arrived by sea into the country.
49pc of these didn’t confirm their place of residence on the passenger locator form.
Tánaiste Varadkar said that the passenger locator form has not worked out as “robust a measure as was needed”.
He said that a negative PCR test will now be required within 72 hours of arrival into the country by those arriving “by air or by sea”, with the exception of supply chain workers and cabin crew.
The number of cases seen in residential care settings are also similar to those seen at the beginning of the pandemic, with “very significant mortality associated with those outbreaks”, according to Professor Philip Nolan.
“The rate of the virus in those aged over 65, particularly in those over 85, the outbreaks in residential settings, not just nursing homes, a variety of residential settings and the fact that the disease is transmitting within healthcare settings, are expected unfortunately when there’s high levels of community transmission, but it’s very worrying to see them actually happen,” he said.
He also warned that there will be a large number of deaths in the coming weeks as mortality has increased.
The National Outbreak Control Team to manage “significant” outbreak in hospitals was set up three weeks ago and is currently operating.
It was set up in response to “unprecedented” outbreak of the virus in hospital settings.
“There has been a lot of additional infection prevention controls support and training given to the hospitals in context of those outbreaks, including the provision of additional and enhanced PPE,” said Dr Lorraine Doherty, the National Clinical Director for Health Protection at the HSE.
“We’ve had outbreaks in our hospitals throughout the pandemic but what we are seeing now is unprecedented in terms of the numbers of outbreaks, the numbers of hospitals being infected, the number of healthcare workers that are ill. That points to a very serious situation,” she added.
The reproductive R number is now estimated to be between 0.5 and 0.8, however Professor Philip Nolan believes that this will be hard to maintain due to the British variant.
“When the new variant becomes dominant, it might add 0.1 to 0.5 to the reproductive number,” he said.