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Public urged to support health service as hospitals treat 1,000 Covid patients

Thursday saw 1,022 people being treated in hospital with coronavirus including 95 in ICU.

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Paramedics and ambulances at the Mater Hospital in Dublin as the head of the Health Service Executive Paul Reid said the number of people in hospital with Covid-19 has surpassed the 1,000 mark (Brian Lawless/PA)

Paramedics and ambulances at the Mater Hospital in Dublin as the head of the Health Service Executive Paul Reid said the number of people in hospital with Covid-19 has surpassed the 1,000 mark (Brian Lawless/PA)

Paramedics and ambulances at the Mater Hospital in Dublin as the head of the Health Service Executive Paul Reid said the number of people in hospital with Covid-19 has surpassed the 1,000 mark (Brian Lawless/PA)

Ireland’s health chief has said reaching the sad milestone of more than 1,000 patients in hospital with Covid-19 must be a “call to arms” to the public to support the health system.

Paul Reid said there was nothing positive to say about the scenario the country found itself in and the decisions that the Government had made this week – but they were the “right decisions”.

Thursday saw 1,022 people being treated in hospital with coronavirus including 95 in ICU.

There were 6,521 new cases of Covid-19 in Ireland and 10 additional deaths linked to the disease.

The figure comes a day after the Government unveiled strict new lockdown measures amid escalating hospital admissions and a record number of cases.

Mr Reid said the country is dealing with an “extraordinary national crisis”.

“In the last 24 hours we’ve recached a milestone that has to be a call to arms to the public, to everybody, to support the health service in the coming weeks and months.

“We now have 1,022 people being treated in hospital with Covid and this far exceeds the previous peak in the first phase of 881 in hospital. And as of mid morning there are now 95 people in ICU.

“Throughout the country, health service staff are fighting to save people’s lives or indeed protect some very ill people and in some cases we may not always succeed.”

He added: “There is nothing we can say positive about the scenario we are in right now. The decision we’ve already made this week around stopping non-urgent care has impacts….the decisions of government on restrictions have impacts on the health system, on society and on mental health but we do know that’s what we have to do today.”

“It’s very hard to find an upside of all the decisions we’re making this week. But they are the right decisions.”

Ireland’s coronavirus reproduction number is now between 2.4 and 3, the highest level seen throughout the pandemic.

Nphet’s Dr Philip Nolan said: “At no point in the pandemic, other than at the very beginning, were we seeing reproduction numbers above 1.4 or 1.6.

“This week we have to report the reproduction number as being somewhere between 2.4 and 3.”

The reproduction number refers to the number of people the disease is passed on to by a positive case.

Dr Nolan said he was concerned that the highly transmissible UK variant of the virus is in part responsible for the high reproduction number.

However, there was cautious optimism from Nphet that the number of cases is now beginning to plateau at around 6,000, and could soon decrease due to the new restrictions.

Cabinet signed off on new measures on Wednesday as a record 7,836 new cases were confirmed, and chief medical officer Tony Holohan also warned of an incoming spike in deaths.

Schools are to close, most construction work will cease and new protocols on international travel were announced as part of the Government’s new measures.

Owners of businesses such as pubs and restaurants have been warned they may be closed until the end of March.

At the HSE’s weekly briefing, Mr Reid also said “good progress” has been made in the talks with private hospitals to provide extra capacity during the Covid-19 crisis and they were all “very anxious to close out that agreement”.

He said: “We are finalising an agreement with the private hospitals.

“We’re currently in detailed discussions ongoing with all of the hospital groups and we do expect all of the hospital groups to sign up, and indeed to sign up urgently.”

He added: “We have made some good progress over the last couple of days with Blackrock, the Hermitage, Galway, Charter Medical in Mullingar and we expect five more hospital groups to sign up later today,” Mr Reid said.

“I do urge all of them to sign up, put on their green jersey at a time of national need.

“Not to do so would be incomprehensible.”

At present, he said, there are 400 general beds available in the system.

Over the past seven days, he said more than 171,000 Covid-19 lab tests had been completed, almost 170,000 swabs had been taken in the community and 95,000 contact tracing calls had been made.

He said the figures demonstrated the volume and scale of the virus in the community.

Earlier, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the Government’s latest measures are to reinforce the “stay at home” message as the UK variant of the virus is in Ireland at a “significant level” and across all parts of the country.

Mr Donnelly warned that the variant makes it difficult to model when the virus will peak.

“The approach is stay at home and reduce contacts to as minimal as possible and in time that will lead to a reduction in hospital cases,” he told RTE Morning Ireland.

“The plan is not to run out of ICU beds, that’s why we moved to Level 5 before Christmas. We have a base active of 285 critical care beds and can go up to 350 on surge capacity.

“We are putting arrangements in with private hospitals, they have about 50 critical care beds.”

He said the surge capacity coupled with private hospital intensive care beds is “sufficient” for what is needed.

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