Only Denmark and Netherlands had lower Covid hospitalisations than Ireland – Hiqa report 

People observe a minute of silence as thousands of crosses are painted at the Old Town Square in Prague, Czech Republic, to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the death of the first Czech Covid-19 patient. Photo: AP Photo/Petr David Josek

Eilish O'Regan

COVID-19 cases need to be driven down further in order to relieve hospitals and allow more non-Covid care of patients to proceed, a new watchdog report has warned.

The Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) said: "Our strategy has been successful to date in limiting the spread of Covid-19 in Ireland, but a further reduction in the burden of Covid-19 on our healthcare system will be necessary if the system is to deal with the waiting lists for non-Covid care.”

The five-day moving average here is still showing 587 cases a day, despite the country being in lockdown for three months

The new report from the watchdog reviewed the international response to Covid-19 since the beginning of the year.

Many countries have produced plans on how to live with Covid-19 and some have roadmaps out of restrictions.

Ireland is one of only five countries – out of 18 which imposed some form of anti-Covid restrictions since January – where the two-week case numbers per 100,000 had fallen in mid-March over the previous seven days.

The report found that, of the 18 countries included in the review, only five (Czech Republic, Ireland, Israel, Portugal and the UK) had seen a reduction in 14-day case numbers per 100,000 population over the previous seven days to March 14. All other countries included in the review had seen an increase.

Dr Máirín Ryan, Hiqa's deputy chief executive and director of health technology assessment, said: “Ireland took a robust approach following the increase in cases in December 2020.

"Comparing Ireland to other countries in the review, hospitalisations per million population were lower only in Denmark and the Netherlands.

"Similarly, the numbers in intensive care per million population were lower only in Denmark and the UK.”

Dr Ryan said that many of the countries reviewed have developed and published guidelines and frameworks for living with Covid-19, with some now including plans for the gradual easing of restrictions provided the epidemiological situation allows.

She added: "All countries with a published risk framework that is applied at a national level are currently operating at the highest risk level. For countries where the framework is applied at a regional level, the majority of regions are at the highest risk level, except in Israel. However, the situation is extremely fluid in Europe, where restrictive measures are under constant review.

“The types of measures that have been applied are generally consistent across the countries we studied, but vary in detail, including the use of night-time curfews, the number of people allowed to meet and the opening hours for hospitality businesses.”

All countries included in the report have launched their Covid-19 vaccination programmes, with Israel having the largest share of its population fully vaccinated (47pc) followed by Switzerland (4.3pc) and Denmark (4.2pc). In Ireland, 3.3pc of the population were fully vaccinated by March 12.

Hiqa said it will continue to monitor public health measures and strategies and update this international review accordingly.