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Health workers make up one-third of total Covid-19 infections here

Proportion is one of the highest in Europe

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Vigilant: Dr Colm Henry, chief clinical officer of the HSE, told of his concern.
Photo: Collins

Vigilant: Dr Colm Henry, chief clinical officer of the HSE, told of his concern. Photo: Collins

Vigilant: Dr Colm Henry, chief clinical officer of the HSE, told of his concern. Photo: Collins

Irish healthcare workers make up almost a third of total Covid-19 infections here - one of the highest proportions in Europe - with the HSE admitting there had been "difficulties" with testing.

Healthcare workers account for 32pc of coronavirus infections here, compared with 10pc in Italy and 20pc in Spain - two of the countries worst-hit by the virus in Europe.

According to the 'Business Post', figures from 30 countries show that at least 90,000 healthcare workers have been infected - 6pc of all confirmed infections.

It comes as four more people died from Covid-19 here, with an additional 57 cases of the virus confirmed yesterday. The death toll now stands at 1,608.

The HSE's chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said yesterday that the number of infections among Irish healthcare workers was "clearly a concern to us".

He told a Covid-19 briefing at Technological University Dublin that a number of factors could have caused this higher proportion of healthcare workers among the total.

"We know in our country, we had difficulties with testing and volume testing at one stage," he said.

"But throughout our difficulties, even when our volume testing was very low, we continued to prioritise healthcare workers, so even when we weren't testing other areas, we continued to test that cohort of people, so it may represent a disproportionate amount of area testing.

"Now we are testing at a broader scale, we see the healthcare workers as a total number of cases reduced.

"As to why it's happened in those people who've had it (medical staff), we know in some cases, in the early stage of the pandemic, it was somewhat travel-related.

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"In the medium phase, it was predominantly raised in community transmission. There was more widespread dissemination of the virus within the community for healthcare workers and non-healthcare workers.

"In the latter stage, healthcare workers predominantly got it in a healthcare environment and as we tightened up with infection control, particularly in a community setting... measures began to kick in, with a reduced amount of healthcare workers testing positive.

"But it's a serious statistic and a cause for concern for us."

Dr Henry added that when Ireland was "compared to other countries, we don't have the same story in terms of testing, or in terms of the positivity rate".

Also speaking at the briefing, Health Minister Simon Harris said the downward trend in cases of coronavirus showed "progress" had been made due to the public abiding by social restrictions.

"This progress is thanks to you and your family," he said.

"We now need to maintain it and work to carefully find ways of living alongside the virus by following our plan. Stay safe. We will get there."

Transmission

The total number of people confirmed as being infected with the virus now stands at 24,639. Of these, some 3,222 people have been hospitalised and of those, 394 have been admitted to intensive care units.

Some 7,819 cases are associated with healthcare staff.

Dublin has the highest number of cases at 11,873 - 48pc of all cases.

Cork has the second highest number with 1,428 cases and Kildare has 1,392 - both around 6pc of cases.

Community transmission accounts for 59pc of cases, close contact for 38pc and travel abroad for 3pc.

Meanwhile, director general of the HSE Paul Reid confirmed there were no plans to rethink the €115m-a-month contract that has seen the State take over private hospitals, despite only half of private hospital beds being occupied. The occupancy rate is believed to be as low as 35pc in some private hospitals, despite the pressures of Covid-19 across the health sector.

Mr Reid said: "If you take the reasons it (the contract) was put in place from the start, it was to ensure we had the capacity to meet surges. We have to, in the HSE, be very mindful of (surges).

"On a good day, normally in the HSE, we would operate at 95pc capacity in a hospital, but the World Health Organisation guidance is to aim to keep at 80pc occupancy levels and that's a significant risk for us.

"We need to keep capacity levels and to protect the public in case of a potential surge or peaks, as a result of restrictions that are lifted."

Mr Reid said the contract was a "decision for Government", but the HSE's view remained the same.

"We do need capacity for the coming weeks and months ahead," Mr Reid said. "I don't expect changes to contracts."

The HSE also stated that it was vital those concerned about their mental health at this time engage with services, or by contacting their GP for referrals and guidance.

Visit our Covid-19 vaccine dashboard for updates on the roll out of the vaccination program and the rate of Coronavirus cases Ireland


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