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‘Hundreds of thousands of Covid cases’ – but no new restrictions despite warning 6,000 health workers out due to virus

Donnelly says Holohan advises no need for new curbs, despite healthcare stress


Health Minister Stephen Donnelly. Photo: Gareth Chaney

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly. Photo: Gareth Chaney

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly. Photo: Gareth Chaney

Several hundred thousand people are being infected by Covid-19 each week but there are no plans for restrictions to be re-introduced, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has said.

His warning came as the HSE’s chief clinical officer warned 6,000 health workers were currently out due to Covid, which was causing huge disruption.

Mr Donnelly said ‘serious measures’ would be needed to reduce the surge of infections and reiterated the advice from Chief Medical officer Tony Holohan that there is currently no need for new Covid rules.

"The sub variant that we’re dealing with now, the BA2 variant, is very, very contagious and the kind of measures you would need to radically reduce the spread would be really quite serious measures indeed,” the Health Minister told a private Fianna Fáil party members meeting last night.

“If we’re registering 10,000 to 15,000 cases a day through PCR and antigen tests, you can be sure the actual numbers are several times that much,” Mr Donnelly said.

“We are most likely looking at several hundred thousand new Covid cases per week at the moment, which is a very high number,” he added.

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The Health Minister said the surge in cases was putting pressure on the country’s hospital system.

However, he said there is still a "relatively low number" of people in critical care.

“Where that is causing real stress on the healthcare system is on the number of hospital patients we have, as of today, we recorded 1,600 patients that tested positive for Covid,” he said.

“About half of them are in because of Covid and about half of them are asymptomatic, they tested positive for Covid but it’s not why they’re there. In terms of actual patients in because of Covid, it’s about 800.”

It comes as emergency consultants said conditions are now worse than they have ever been.

They said a five-hour wait to be admitted to a bed results in one additional death for every 82 patients.

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If the delay extends to six to eight hours there is a risk of a further additional death.

“This should ring alarm bells,” the doctors in the Irish Association of Emergency Medicine warned.

Dr Fergal Hickey, an emergency consultant in Sligo and spokesman for the body, said patients can wait days on a trolley and there is “no convincing evidence” that politicians or managers recognise the “threat to life” this poses.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland on Tuesday morning, HSE chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said there are now more than 1,600 people in hospital with Covid.

"We're seeing an ongoing rise in cases, people testing positive, with now over 1,600 (in hospital) - split quite evenly between those who are actually sick with Covid, admitted because they are sick with Covid, or still in hospital because they are sick with Covid.

"The other 50pc being those that we call incidental but the presence of with people who are sick with Covid or those who test incidentally are equally disruptive to healthcare because of the need for us to implement infection control measures to prevent ongoing transmission of the virus to someone who is vulnerable."

He said it was hard to say how high the cases could rise during this wave.

“We are dealing with this new variant which is much more transmissible than even the variants we were quite used to in the first and second year of this pandemic,” Dr Henry said.

“Fortunately, due to the vaccination programme and the booster programme to some extent we see less severe illnesses associated with this particular variant but because it has some new mutations, it means that people who were previously infected with variants are liable and likely to get reinfected if they are exposed.”

He added, however that the numbers in intensive care had thankfully not risen markedly.

“If we had seen these numbers in January 2021, before the vaccine programme, we would have seen our hospitals and wider healthcare service completely keel over,” he said.

"As it is, they're under huge pressure... we see disruption of services, we see widespread absenteeism, we see slow flow of patients through the hospital settings and out back into residential care settings because of the impact of outbreaks and we see perhaps over 6,000 staff out now on Covid related leave.”

He said staff absences coupled with the need for infection control measures were causing “considerable disruption right across the whole span of healthcare”, and he urged the public to stick to infection control measures.

"The level of disruption we're seeing now is causing considerable disruption in flow to unscheduled care, it's causing pause in scheduled care, cancellation in theatre and it's causing disruption out in community services too,” Dr Henry said.

"So, certainly it’s not something we want to see and we still a further rise in figures over the next few weeks and perhaps a plateau as we've seen in previous surges.”

However, he said the level of harm to patients is much less in this wave.

“For example, in the month of January 2021 we had nearly 1,500 deaths from Covid and last month in February we had about 170 Covid related deaths. A much diminished serious harm,” he said.

"We know that people who are unvaccinated are still disproportionately represented in hospital or ICU and, looking at the booster, of the 1,600 or so patients in hospital today testing positive for Covid, half of them are sick with Covid and over half of those have not received their booster."

Asked if restrictions should be reimposed, he again called for much greater compliance with public health measures, especially mask wearing.

“The pandemic has not gone away,” Dr Henry said. “It's all the more reason why I would ask anybody to carry a mask with them, to wear it on public transport, to wear it in any setting where there is congestion.

"You never know who beside you may be vulnerable to the virus or who has not been vaccinated and you're not just protecting yourself, you're protecting other people."

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