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'Danger' Nurses call for return to indoor mask wearing as Covid-19 cases surge

  • Covid-19 is resurging with 63,954 new infections reported over the St Patrick’s festivities

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The ESRI survey found just two-thirds of shoppers and public transport users were wearing a mask. Photo: Gareth Chaney

The ESRI survey found just two-thirds of shoppers and public transport users were wearing a mask. Photo: Gareth Chaney

The ESRI survey found just two-thirds of shoppers and public transport users were wearing a mask. Photo: Gareth Chaney

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) is calling for the return of mandatory mask-wearing in indoor settings as 63,954 Covid-19 cases have been confirmed since St Patricks Day.

Her call came as a survey showed a big drop in the numbers wearing facemasks in retail and public transport since the rules were lifted last month.

General secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said hospitals have become extremely overwhelmed due to the prevalence of the virus, with 570 patients being left on trollies across the country yesterday.

“Mandatory mask-wearing is one of the issues, the HSE has to make a decision,” she said on RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland.

“I think the numbers speak for themselves and the increase has put pressure on hospitals, which are always under pressure after bank holidays, but our members are reporting to us that the level of Covid is very very high and that puts additional pressure on an already very busy and overcrowded system and this is leading to a lot of unsafe practices.”

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She added that there is “tremendous pressure to find spaces for patients that are leading to decisions that are simply unsafe.”

As of 8am yesterday, 1,308 Covid-19 patients were hospitalised, of whom 49 were in ICU.

Ms Ní Sheaghdha said her members are calling for mask-wearing to be mandatory again in certain settings as hospitals cannot continue as they are.

“What we are saying is anywhere where people are congregating in an indoor environment [masks should be worn],” she said.

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HSE chief Paul Reid called on those who are now ready for a Covid-19 booster shot to come forward. Photo: Leon Farrell

HSE chief Paul Reid called on those who are now ready for a Covid-19 booster shot to come forward. Photo: Leon Farrell

HSE chief Paul Reid called on those who are now ready for a Covid-19 booster shot to come forward. Photo: Leon Farrell

“Hospitals simply cannot cope and that translates to unsafe care.

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“We cannot continue with this, we just can't. It’s very very dangerous. We have seen that hospital inquired infection has increased significantly over the past number of weeks.

"Our hospitals are becoming reservoirs for Covid and of itself being admitted to hospital now is a danger.”

The INMO secretary said there is “huge issue” with ventilation in Irish hospitals.

“We don’t have any evidence from the HSE that measures are being taken to correct this,” she added.

"When you have an airborne infection you must have complete and utter attention to air hygiene to ensure windows can be opened, that the air of itself is being measured but what we know is we have overcrowded hospitals, we have patients on wards without the proper facilities and very dangerous higher than safe levels of occupancy always leads to infection and this simply cannot continue.”

A sharp decline in the wearing of face masks has emerged as Covid-19 is resurging with 63,954 new infections reported over the St Patrick’s festivities.

Hospitals are under extreme pressure with 1,308 patients positive for Covid-19 of whom 49 are seriously ill in intensive care, the highest in almost a year.

It has led to many further cancellations of procedures for waiting list patients due to infection control measures in hospitals in Limerick, Donegal, Kerry and Dublin.

As the Government and health officials ruled out any return to restrictions for now, the ESRI tracker survey – which has been measuring our behaviour for over a year – revealed how swift people were to ditch face masks after they were no longer compulsory from February 28.

It showed a steep drop in the reported wearing of face masks on public transport and in shops in the week after the mask mandate was lifted.

Almost all close contact meet-ups are conducted without a face mask and this is particularly driven by colleagues in the workplace.

The ESRI survey found just two-thirds of shoppers and public transport users were wearing a mask despite the strong public health advice to continue to use them in these settings.

However, the lifting of restrictions has had a beneficial impact on the nation’s wellbeing.

It showed that wellbeing rose for the first time this year and was at its highest since last summer. This was seen in all age groups but was strongest in people aged under 40.

More people are going out for a walk, run or cycle.

A majority of people judged their mental health as being the same or better compared to before the pandemic and fewer regard it as worse.

Over half of people say their social life is the same or better than it was before the pandemic. The survey found for young people the link between wellbeing and social life is particularly strong.

The extent to which people felt lonely fell significantly.

Around half of people felt restrictions could return due to seasonal changes, but few believed they will be reintroduced due to a rise in cases.

Overall, the extent to which people are following news around Covid-19 continues to fall.

There was a significant increase in the proportion of people saying they rarely or never follow basics such as keeping a distance, washing their hands or wearing a face mask.

Overall worry about Covid-19 between March 1 to 9 remained stable since late January with one in four still highly worried.

Meanwhile, there has been a significant drop in the percentage of the population reporting feeling lonely. Visiting outdoor locations such as parks is linked with less frequent feelings of loneliness.

The majority feel the Government’s response to the pandemic is appropriate.

HSE chief Paul Reid yesterday called on those within the 700,000 group of people who are now ready for a Covid-19 booster shot to come forward. Some had been delayed due to Covid-19 infection earlier this year.

The booster is still providing strong protection against severe disease.

He said the BA.2 sub-variant of Omicron is highly transmissible.

Around half the patients in hospital with Covid-19 were admitted for another illness rather than complications of the virus. But infection control measures and staff absences of over 4,000 are highly disruptive.

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