perfect storm | 

Expert says ‘we will get Covid again and again’ as HSE boss warns of 'huge stress'

A UCD virologist said: "We’ve never ever seen in our lifetime a virus as infectious as this as a respiratory form that spreads so easily between people"

Anne Lucey and Eoghan Moloney

HSE chief executive Paul Reid has warned there is “huge stress” on the healthcare system as there are now more than 1,600 patients in hospital with Covid-19.

In a tweet, Mr Reid said this morning: “1,625 Covid positive patients in hospital now is causing huge stress on the healthcare system. We need to turn this tide again asap and repeat doing the basics.

"Please wear your mask appropriately, come forward for your booster or primary vaccine and isolate if you have symptoms.”

Today’s hospital total is up from 1,569 yesterday and the highest since January 28, 2021, when there were 1,620. The number of people in ICU with the virus was steady at 52 yesterday, an increase of one in the past day.

The newest variant of Covid-19 is the most infectious respiratory disease “seen in our lifetime” and is being given a “perfect storm” to spread, virologist Dr Gerald Barry said.

Dr Barry said BA.2 - the latest super-infectious Omicron subvariant - is being given perfect conditions to spread through the population despite not knowing the long-term impacts of the virus on humans.

The UCD virologist said BA.2 is so infectious that it will not go away, will continue to circulate in our population, and people catching it could become a regular event.

“We’ve never ever seen in our lifetime a virus as infectious as this as a respiratory form that spreads so easily between people.

“It’s a perfect storm, in some ways, of an incredibly infectious disease - multiple fold more infectious than things like flu - and we have created an environment that lets it rapidly spread through the population,” Dr Barry said on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

Officials in recent days have stressed that roughly half of all current Covid cases in hospitals are not due to the virus, but positive cases in people who are in hospital to be treated for another ailment.

Overcrowding and infection control measures are seeing hospitals being pushed to breaking point with many forced to cancel elective surgeries and appointments for patients in need of non-emergency care due to the burden on the healthcare system.

Hospitals are now seeing close to 500 or more people on trolleys nationwide every day and it is leading to an “unsafe” environment, Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said. The INMO and other organisations including the National Bus and Rail Workers Union have called for a return to mask wearing in indoor settings.

University Hospital Kerry in Tralee has postponed all elective surgery and dozens of outpatients clinics, with visiting across all departments restricted.

The large acute hospital serves Kerry, north Cork and west Limerick and is the latest hospital to cancel procedures and introduce restrictions.

The decision is because of “the continuing difficulties associated with increasing Covid-19 numbers and staffing challenges”, management at the 377-bed acute and maternity hospital said

All elective surgery, with the exception of time-critical surgery, from Monday until Friday is being postponed.

Oncology, antenatal and colposcopy clinics, along with orthopaedic trauma, infusion and radiology outpatients, are proceeding.

Other than the listed clinics, “University Hospital Kerry is kindly requesting that patients do not attend scheduled outpatient and elective surgery appointments unless there is a call from UHK staff,” it said.

Any cancelled appointments are being worked on with a view to early rescheduling, management also said.

Hospital management have also requested that, where appropriate, the public contact GP South Doc in the first instance and explore all other options available to them prior to presenting to the Emergency Department.

Hospital visiting is restricted across all departments. However, those who require visitation on compassionate grounds will be facilitated.

Killarney GP and medical director of South Doc out of hours service said there has been a noticeable increase in numbers presenting with Covid over and since St Patrick’s weekend and patients are presenting with unusual symptoms.

The unusual symptoms which turn out to be Covid linked include rash and stomach problems.

The “rare event” of being laid up at home in bed with the flu could become a “regular event” for people, Dr Barry said.

“That’s the stark reality with this. It could become a very regular event that could occur to most people once or twice a year going forward for the foreseeable future.

“Thankfully, primarily due to vaccines, most people won’t end up in hospital, but in terms of the economic and social impact of picking this up on a regular basis; I don’t think that’s a kind of normality that people want to live in.

“We’re still at a stage where the virus is learning to live with us and it is trying to perfect how it moves through us. Because of that, our immune system is having to deal with a very different virus every time a new wave comes along,” Dr Barry said.

The virologist said it’s “likely” that new variants of the virus are going to keep coming for the foreseeable future, for at least the next few years, and we need to be ready for future waves of infection.

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