The public has been urged to take preventive measures such as wearing masks on public transport as the number of people suffering from Covid and flu continues to increase, potentially creating a “respiratory virus storm”.
The Chief Medical Officer, Prof Breda Smyth, said anyone experiencing Covid or flu symptoms should not attend religious services or congregated settings over the Christmas period and urged the general population to consider taking preventive measures such as wearing a mask when attending services.
There has been a significant increase in Covid cases in the past week, with 120 people hospitalised overnight, 19 of whom are in intensive care, she told RTE’s radio’s The News at One.
There was also a 75 per cent increase in flu cases over the past week and a 35 per cent increase in flu-related hospitalisations.
The majority of patients who were hospitalised with flu were over 65 or children, she said. There has been a 65 per cent increase in hospitalisations among those aged five to 14 years.
The increase in the number of cases in hospital with Covid in the last seven days was concerning, said Prof Smyth, and she urged everyone who was eligible for either the Covid booster or the flu vaccine to avail of them as soon as possible.
If someone is experiencing symptoms, particularly if they are in a vulnerable category, they should be medically assessed to see if they are eligible for viral treatment, even if they are fully vaccinated, she said. “It’s important that we use all the tools in the toolbox.”
Everything that could possibly be done was being done to meet the challenge of the joint threat of Covid and flu this winter, she said, and called on people using public transport to wear masks as an act of solidarity. She also urged people to be careful when visiting vulnerable people.
The HSE’s chief clinical officer, Dr Colm Henry, also appealed to the public to wear masks on public transport, in congregated settings and when in contact with vulnerable people.
Dr Henry told RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland that Covid hospitalisations were up 90 per cent in December. Influenza cases were up 75 per cent in one week, with hospitalisations up 35 per cent, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases at a five year high.
There was “end to end” pressure on the healthcare system, not just in emergency departments, he added, and the HSE will start using private hospitals as a backup resource.
Dr Henry also appealed to people to get vaccinated and boosted (Covid and flu) and said if they have a cough or cold that they should stay at home. The Covid vaccination figures had been very good at earlier stages of the pandemic, he said. In the first round there had been 96 per cent uptake, but since then uptake of booster vaccines had dropped from 77 per cent for the first to 37 per cent for the third booster which was now available for those over 65 and immunocompromised. This figure was “relatively good”, he said, but it needed to be higher.