OFF-LICENCES targeted  | 

Alcohol is helping to fuel spread of Covid-19, warns Holohan

Dr Holohan welcomed signals that the Government is looking at curtailing off-licence hours. He said “the virus loves alcohol” and it was clear it was causing people to let down their guard.

Dr Tony Holohan (PA)

Eilish O'Regan and Philip Ryan

CURBS on the sale of alcohol by forcing off-licences to cut their opening hours may be the next step in the fight against the Covid-19 crisis after Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan warned it is helping to fuel the spread.

Dr Holohan welcomed signals that the Government is looking at curtailing off-licence hours.

He said “the virus loves alcohol” and it was clear it was causing people to let down their guard.

He was speaking as the rapid acceleration in the spread of the virus has left the country facing the fastest rate of growth since March.

Ten more Covid-19 related deaths were reported yesterday, along with 6,521 cases, although there are cautious signs that cases may have begun to stabilise in recent days.

The figures from recent days had to be “interpreted cautiously”, and it will take time to show if the country was starting to turn the corner.

However, admissions to hospitals will continue to escalate, and there were a record 1,043 people being treated in wards yesterday, with 99 hospitalised in the previous 24 hours.

Intensive care units had 96 Covid patients, and doctors are “terrified” they will not be able to provide the level of care needed by every patient who is seriously ill.

HSE clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said the most “optimistic” prediction is that there will be 200 Covid-19 patients in intensive care next week.

Prof Cliona Ni Cheallaigh, an infectious disease consultant in St James’s Hospital, said doctors were “terrified” of finding themselves where they have to choose between patients because of a lack of beds.

There are 286 intensive care beds and capacity to increase this with temporary beds to 350, but hospitals are facing huge difficulties with absent staff due to the virus.

There are 2,500 off work, including the specialist nurses and doctors needed to provide this level of care.

Prof Philip Nolan said the more infectious strain of the virus is now accounting for around one in four infections, and it will make it more difficult to get the third wave under ­control.

Its threat means everyone needs to work harder to slow the spread and double down on their efforts.

It will be next week before there is any firm sign that the spread of the virus may be ­stabilising, and optimism is still “very thin.”

The R number showing how fast the virus is spreading is at between 2.4 and 3.

Prof Nolan said that at no time since the start of the pandemic in March had it exceeded 1.6.

He said this was certainly “at least in part explained by the very high levels of socialisation and social contact” in the last weeks of December.

He added that a pessimistic forecast was that there will be 2,500 to 5,000 cases a day by the end of this month. The more optimistic possibility was that it could be between 1,100 and 2,900 a day.

Ireland went into lockdown in October when daily cases were around 1,200, which shows the hill that has to be climbed in the first part of this year.

Prof Nolan expressed concern about the rate of infection, hospitalisation and risk of death among the over-65s.

Around 11 people a day are dying of Covid-19 related disease, and so far this month there have been 41 deaths. There were 163 last month.

Earlier, HSE boss Paul Reid said the rate of growth in Covid patients is a “massive shock”, and 400 hospital beds were available yesterday as well as 31 intensive care beds.

“We are looking at an extreme situation in our hospitals in the coming days,” he said.

Mr Reid said 15,314 people, mostly healthcare workers, have received the vaccine and 35,000 are expected to get it this week. Around 27,300 doses have already been distributed.

“We are where we expected to be,” he told an HSE briefing.

The briefing was told there have been 108 open outbreaks since the beginning of the month across long-term care facilities and hospitals. There are currently 79 active outbreaks.

Around 880 nursing home staff are off work because of Covid-19.

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