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Health system ‘will not continue to cope’ with high levels of coronavirus cases

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan has warned the health service is in danger as cases of Covid-19 surge.

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Dr Tony Holohan has warned about surging numbers of Covid-19 cases (PA)

Dr Tony Holohan has warned about surging numbers of Covid-19 cases (PA)

Dr Tony Holohan has warned about surging numbers of Covid-19 cases (PA)

Ireland’s health system “will not continue to cope” with the high levels of coronavirus cases, the Chief Medical Officer has warned.

Dr Tony Holohan gave the bleak assessment as he outlined his fears over the high numbers of patients in hospitals with the virus.

On Friday, 11 further deaths related to Covid-19 and an additional 1,754 cases were reported.

Our health system will not continue to cope with this level of impact.Dr Tony Holohan, CMO

But a backlog in the system means there are an additional 9,000 cases to be reported in the coming days.

As of 2pm on Friday, there were 504 Covid-19 patients in hospital, of whom 47 are in ICU, an increase of five on the previous day.

Dr Holohan said: “The most concerning trend at present is the rapidly increasing number of people being admitted to hospital – we are now admitting between 50–70 people a day to our hospital system.

“Unfortunately, we expect this to get worse before it gets better. Our health system will not continue to cope with this level of impact.

“We have also seen a significant increase in positive laboratory tests in recent days reflecting a true increase in the incidence of the disease as well as the delay in people coming forward for testing over the Christmas period.

“As our systems catch up with these effects it places significant pressure on our reporting system.”

He added: “We have always understood that numbers of positive tests or confirmed cases would be a less reliable indicator over the Christmas period.

“This is typical of infectious disease reporting annually over the two weeks of Christmas and New Year.

“What is clear are the measures that the Government has now mandated and the behaviours that we as individuals need to observe. Everyone needs to stay at home other than for essential work or care.”

Professor Philip Nolan, chairman of the NPHET Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, said: “A very large volume of positive tests in recent days means there is a delay in formal reporting.

“In excess of 9,000 additional new cases will be reported over the coming days. The reporting delay does not affect case management or contact tracing or our overall monitoring and modelling of the pandemic.”

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A message of hope on Burrow beach in Dublin. (Brian Lawless/PA)

A message of hope on Burrow beach in Dublin. (Brian Lawless/PA)

A message of hope on Burrow beach in Dublin. (Brian Lawless/PA)

Earlier the head of the HSE warned that Covid-19 is now rampant in Irish communities.

Paul Reid said a whole set of “worst-case scenarios” have come together to create “explosive impacts”.

“The virus is absolutely rampant now in the community, we know that for a fact,” he said.

“Everybody is extremely high risk now of contracting the virus. We really need our vulnerable groups to be on our highest guard, everybody. There’s no doubt our health service is on what we would call high alert.”

He urged the public to stay at home and adhere to public health advice.

“We really need everybody to take the real appropriate actions that we’re calling out to everybody to do, which in essence is retract. Retract back to our homes, reduce our contacts drastically and really protect ourselves in the coming days and weeks.”

When we get to these levels it has a severe impact across a whole set of areas, not just our systems, the health service, and the volume that any system can cope withPaul Reid, HSE

Mr Reid said: “The real picture over the last few days is most likely getting close to 3,000 cases per day.

“That’s the extent of the virus that we’re dealing with. So, when we get to these levels it has a severe impact across a whole set of areas, not just our systems, the health service, and the volume that any system can cope with.”

He added that 35,000 swabs had been taken on New Year’s Eve alone.

Asked whether the HSE’s decision not to test close contacts for the virus was a sign the system had failed, Mr Reid said it was not and that they had to make the decision to “prioritise for the most symptomatic people” as the demand for testing soared.

People who are close contacts of positive cases are still being asked to restrict their movements for 14 days.

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(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

Meanwhile, the Foreign Affairs Minister warned it may be necessary to extend Level 5 restrictions past the end of January.

Simon Coveney described the challenge ahead of trying to tackle the latest wave as a “significant one”.

“We have taken the decision in a way that’s consistent with Nphet to move to a full Level 5 set of restrictions until the end of January and it may be necessary to go even beyond that,” he told RTE Radio 1’s Morning Ireland programme.

Mr Coveney rejected claims that the reopening of hospitality and allowing home visits in December was a mistake and caused the surge in Covid-19 cases.

The Fine Gael minister said it was a “misreading” of the situation to suggest there was a divide between the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) and the Government.

“The pace of the third wave of the spread of this virus has taken everybody by surprise,” he told RTE Radio 1’s Morning Ireland.

He said the relationship between Government and Nphet, and the decisions that have been made in the back of that relationship, by and large, have saved many lives and have kept the spread of the virus under control where possible.

“Of course, there have been some mistakes made, but we are now in the teeth of a third wave and Nphet and Government are working together, but Government must make decisions,” Mr Coveney said, adding Nphet’s advice is taken seriously by ministers.

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