On Friday evening, a red sky stretches over Dublin city but there are still hours to work at the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital. A white board taking up much of a wall in the office of chief executive Alan Sharp is filled with lists of wards and bed numbers and mathematical equations. "It's my mind board," he says.
That night, there were 126 new cases of coronavirus, bringing the total in the Republic to 683, where three weeks ago there was one. Three people have died, 12 are receiving critical care in intensive-care units and some of them are in the Mater. A surge is coming, but Mr Sharp cannot say when or what shape it will take.
He is known as a numbers man and a lot of fighting coronavirus comes down to numbers; how many will get the virus, how many will need admission, is there enough life-saving ventilation equipment to go around?
The number of Covid-19 patients in the Mater is in the "double digits", Mr Sharp says, but the hospital is preparing for "hundreds" more.
The 72 beds available for those catching the disease are gradually filling up. As numbers rise in one ward, patients are decanted from another. Eighty four additional empty beds are available to switch on, with just hours of notice. In all, around 200 beds will be available in the coming weeks and others are expected to come on stream.
"We are mapping what we need, and we are trying to put enough beds ahead of the curve, [so] that we've got a lot of comfort," says Mr Sharp. "We will continue to do that until we run out of options."
If the options run out, the hospital will take the unprecedented step of treating patients in the car park.
The HSE has been sourcing 12- and 20-bay medical pods, he says, which are being "designed and through manufacturing for the State". The Mater is expecting delivery of its first 20-bed pod in 10 to 12 weeks. A mobile Covid-19 testing unit will "drop on the car park in about a week", says Mr Sharp, to test the anticipated surge of people with symptoms.
"Will we end up in the hundreds in this hospital? It's more than likely that we will at some point, but we are hoping that will be the height of it. This hospital will be as prepared as a hospital can be," he says.
The Mater is a microcosm of what's happening in other hospitals across the country. The extraordinary effort under way across the entire health system has united consultants, nurses, medical teams, HSE managers and the hospital chiefs they are more used to fighting with over resources. Patients on trolleys have disappeared, home help and step-down beds have materialised to get older patients out of hospital. Tomorrow, Mr Sharp will view the 48-bed St Bricin's military hospital in nearby Stoneybatter, which the Defence Forces has offered to the Mater.
The hospital's Emergency Department is planning for between 30 and 60 cases of coronavirus presenting every day.
Dr Eamonn Brazil, an emergency medical consultant and clinical director for acute and specialty medicine, says most of those cases will require hospital admission.
"If it's less than 30 we will be delighted, if it's more than 80 we will be very unhappy. So somewhere in the middle. It will vary from day to day."
The department has been dramatically reconfigured into two parts - one, a secure pathway for Covid-19 patients, and the other for the regular emergencies, car accidents, strokes, heart attacks, that will not stop because of the virus.
Patients are screened at the door, into those who may have the virus and those who don't. Dr Brazil is anxious, of course, about passing the virus to family. "The speciality I am in, emergency medicine, tends to thrive on anxiety. It's what we do, we like dealing with situations that are hard to figure out," he says. His biggest fear is "getting it wrong". "If things get rough, we'll struggle through it but we just don't want to get it wrong."
He estimates that 5pc of the anticipated 30 to 60 daily Covid-19 cases are likely to require intensive care.
"By the time they come to the intensive-care unit, most likely the patient will have a tube in their mouth, they will be on a machine that's helping them to breathe. They will require lots of lines that we can deliver medications into their systems to manage their conditions," says Roisin McCourt. A clinical nurse manager, her title is 'acting CNM2 staff development facilitator' and she is training nurses and doctors used to working in other disciplines on treating Covid-19 patients.
"My own personal concern is that there is a fear amongst some of us that we can contract this from the patients we are looking after. So it does involve not seeing our families," Ms McCourt says. She has been working 13-hour days, leaving her home in Louth at 5.45am and getting back at 9.45pm.
It's not the work she and other staff find overwhelming right now, but the acts of kindness. Croke Park has given over its car park to Mater Hospital staff. Dublin Bus has laid on a shuttle service to ferry staff to and from the hospital, and supplied them with goody bags of chocolate, sandwiches and fruit. "Yesterday there was a delivery of chocolate from a gentleman somewhere in the country, he didn't know how to help so he just sent chocolate," says Ms McCourt. "So we can't thank people enough for that. It really lifts our day when we see it coming in."
If there is a sense of eerie calm among front-line staff, it is probably largely because, across the board, hospital teams have been preparing for this since January.
The Mater has been monitoring the virus since it was first reported to the World Health Organisation on December 31 as a pneumonia of unknown cause detected in Wuhan, China. "I remember over that New Year's weekend, seeing the headlines in the paper and going 'right, this is what I'll be doing over the next couple of weeks'," says Dr Aoife Cotter.
Dr Cotter, a consultant in infectious diseases, is the clinical lead for the National Isolation Unit, which is centred at the Mater. She is also on the National Public Health Emergency Team.
She describes how she spends her days planning, co-ordinating, supporting, working with three other infectious disease consultants, a team of specialist nurses and other staff.
She is also five months' pregnant and often working 12-hour days. She doesn't currently see patients - a unilateral decision taken by her colleagues, Dr Cotter says.
"I'm prepared to see patients at any stage and it is likely that I will have to anyway because if we do have a higher volume of people coming through, there are four of us and I will have to support my colleagues," she says.
"I know that we have the infrastructure in place, we have planned for it. I'm well informed around personal protection equipment (PPE) and how to use it, so I have no issues with continuing to work for the rest of my pregnancy."
She has a one-and-a-half year-old at home but is lucky to have a childminder. "My husband is making packed lunches for me and putting them in my handbag and doing the dinners," she says. Dr Cotter is not surprised by the numbers and, asked if she is worried, she responds with a swift and resolute: "No, I just get on with it."
Since the first Covid-19 case was recorded in Ireland on February 29, some of the earliest cases have ended up in the National Isolation Unit.
Prof Jack Lambert, a consultant in infectious diseases, says those first patients were mainly cases that originated in northern Italy and coped well with the virus. His fear is what should follow if the virus spreads among the significant older population who live in the Mater's catchment area.
So far, he says, there have not been many cases in older people. The statistics published by the HSE last week show that only 17pc of cases were over 65, while 22pc were aged between 35 and 44. "So far, we have only had a few individuals in that demographic - frail, elderly immunocompromised who have tested positive. But is that just the tip of the iceberg?" says Prof Lambert. "We are now just beginning to see a few of the elderly and that is the danger. Have we put the brakes on this epidemic or is this just the beginning? In the next seven to 10 days, we will know."
Those coming to be tested include people who work in hospitality industries, who risk infecting others in the community. "Now if they had interacted with the wrong person - someone who works in a nursing home, some elderly people with underlying immunosuppressive conditions, or just frail, that's the danger," he adds. Prof Lambert reckons the hospital will get through the surge. "We are going to have a rough time, but we are going to get through this. It is not going to be Armageddon," he says. "I think we are in a better place than Italy. I think that you can start working toward the best outcome rather than worrying about the worst outcome."
Staff and their families are at risk of infection but as Ken A Byrne, a hospital porter, says: "That's what we signed up for." He dons protective gear every time he transports Covid-19 patients to where they need to go. "People are not as perky as they used to be. You can see the tension there," he adds.
The chief executive is not immune either. "Nobody wants to infect a family member. Nobody wants to get sick themselves. But does it give me any pause for thought when I come into work? No. I have a job to do," says Mr Sharp. "I'll be beside the team for as long as this is here, and that's just the way it is."
The PPE is guarded by the head of security, Zachary, a former officer with the Metropolitan Police in London. He started his job in February and heard of Covid-19 for the first time a week later.
Awareness of what happened in Italy, where the death toll has soared to more than 4,000 since the contagion emerged, is acute.
Alan Sharp, Dr Aoife Cotter, Dr Eamonn Brazil, Prof Jack Lambert, Roisin McCourt and the support staff all deliver the same heartfelt appeal: heed the public health advice.
For all the chocolate and food deliveries that make their day, Ms McCourt says what they really need is for people to "stay home and maintain social distancing, keep up the hand hygiene and cough etiquette".
"We undoubtedly have been given time to prepare that people in China, and in countries closer to China and certainly Italy, didn't have the luxury of," says Dr Cotter. "It's the entire country's responsibility to take that information and for everyone to do their bit."