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ward chaos Up to 23 people died this month after contracting virus in hospital outbreak

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Warning: Dr Ronan Glynn says there are difficult days ahead. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Warning: Dr Ronan Glynn says there are difficult days ahead. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Warning: Dr Ronan Glynn says there are difficult days ahead. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

As many as 23 patients have died this month after picking up Covid-19 in a hospital outbreak, it emerged last night.

It follows revelations by the HSE that in some unnamed hospitals, which have suffered major outbreaks of the virus, half the patients with Covid-19 caught it after admission with another illness.

The pattern of deaths in recent months indicates one-third of fatalities may be due to outbreaks in hospitals and the others are linked to nursing homes and community settings.

The stark findings come as 28 more deaths were reported yesterday, bringing the fatality toll from the disease to 208 this month. The youngest person who died was just 25 and the oldest 98 years old.

Deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn last night warned there will be “difficult days ahead” as more people succumb to the virus in significant numbers.

However, there are now growing fears that a return to the workplace in high numbers will jeopardise the slowing down of the spread of the virus seen in recent days.

Prof Philip Nolan, who tracks the virus, told the Department of Health briefing that the daily number of new infections was 3,955 and we are seeing the beginning of a reduction in case numbers, dropping quite sharply over the last couple of days as people reduce contacts to an average of 2.3.

It is essential we “keep this up” for long periods of time but Google location data for January 10 showed the level of attendance at workplaces was at 50pc, much higher than in the first lockdown.

“The concern is that over the next week people will be asked back in the workplace or they will drift back. That is going to present a real risk to the suppression of the virus.”

He appealed to employers to facilitate people to do their job at home and he asked people to abide by public health advice to work from home.

“If that does not happen and people don’t keep the reduction in their social contacts to the levels they have been doing in the next week to 10 days then the decline in case numbers will not be maintained and the expected recovery in our hospital system we expect to see in the next few weeks will not happen.”

Asked about the reopening of schools from February, Dr Glynn said while they were “very safe environments” in themselves, the issue was the higher level of mobility they generated and it would be necessary to see how the virus was spreading in the coming days before making any recommendations on education or other sectors.

Struggling hospitals, which are overrun with Covid-19 patients as admissions rose to 1,789 yesterday with 169 very ill in intensive care, are unlikely to see a peak for another seven days and they will be under intense pressure for weeks because of the length of time it takes to treat the disease.

Liam Woods who oversees hospitals in the HSE said there were 321 intensive care beds open yesterday with a capacity to increase the number to 350.

Prof Nolan said “even if things go well” there could be 600-800 Covid-19 patients in hospital at the end of the month with 100 to 120 in intensive care.

Around 23 people a day are now dying from Covid-19 related illness, having increased sharply, and there is a particular worry that while the incidence of the virus is falling in other age groups it is plateauing among the over- 65s.

Over-65s make up 13pc of the population but they accounted for 16pc of cases.

The R number, indicating how fast the virus is spreading, is now around 1 or 1.3.

Dr Glynn said nobody was immune to the disease and one in three people in intensive care is under the age of 65.

The UK variant of the disease, which is more infectious, now makes up around half the cases and continues to gain ground.

Dr Cillian De Gascun of the National Virus Reference Laboratory said : “It is not unusual for viruses to mutate over time. We have identified multiple different SARS-CoV-2 lineages in Ireland since the start of the pandemic, and two of the three recently emerged variants of concern from the UK and South Africa,” he said.

“However, the expectation is that more variants will emerge across the world in the coming months. Some may increase the risk of infection, sticking longer and better to surfaces but this does not mean that our continued adherence to the public health advice is in anyway less effective.”

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