A rise in Covid-19 infections among older and more vulnerable people is driving the current rise in patients hospitalised with the disease.
The number of virus patients in hospital hit the 400 mark on Monday, for the first time since early March.
Covid-19 hospital numbers have been increasing steadily since mid-September, and further increases are likely on the back of a recent rise in case numbers. Monday’s figure of 400 was an increase of 18 on the previous day.
Tallaght University Hospital and University Hospital Limerick had the highest number of virus patients on Sunday night, at 40 and 39 respectively.
There were 75 virus patients in ICU on Monday morning, up one from the previous day.
The last time more than 400 Covid-19 patients were in hospital was March 8th, when the figure was 418.
Over 2,000 patients were hospitalised in January, at the peak of the fourth wave of the pandemic in the Republic.
HSE chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry admitted the figures were “higher than we would like” but added they would be even higher but for the impact of vaccination.
Some 92 per cent of the adult population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, with 93 per cent having received at least one dose. Among the population aged 12 and over, 88 per cent is fully vaccinated.
The high level Taskforce on vaccination held its last meeting on Monday. Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly hailed the “amazing success” of the programme, which he said was now “embedded” in the Department of Health and the HSE.
Booster doses for over-80s and those aged 65 years and older living in nursing homes and other residential centres starts on Tuesday.
Although 70 per cent of those in intensive care are not fully vaccinated, the number of vaccinated patients in ICU now is almost as high as the entire number of Covid-19 patients in ICU a year ago. Over this time, the much more transmissible delta variant has become dominant.
HSE chief executive Paul Reid warned the coming winter would be challenging for the health service. Capacity for non-Covid care would be procured in the private sector, he said, and there will also be a focus on care in the community.
Meanwhile, the number of Covid-19 cases passed the 400,000 mark over the weekend, reaching 403,157 by Sunday. A further 1,358 cases of Covid-19 were reported in the State on Monday.
It took 306 days from the first recorded virus case in the Republic to reach 100,000 cases. Then it took 32 days to go to 200,000 cases, another 177 days to reach 300,000 and 70 days to pass 400,000.
After weeks during which the incidence of the disease was steady or even falling, cases have begun rising again since last week.
Waterford, which has had a low incidence of Covid-19 for much of the pandemic, currently has the highest incidence, followed by Longford and Carlow.
Mr Reid repeated a call for anyone who is not vaccinated to do so. “No one will be left behind.” Vaccination clinics were available in colleges and the HSE was also working with not-for-profit organisations dealing with vulnerable people to ensure they could get the vaccine.
Covid continued to have a “disproportionate” effect on the health service, while numbers were “steady” he would prefer to see them coming down, he said.