Concerns that non-Covid care may face ‘severe pressure’ from Delta variant

‘Significant challenges’ to health service capacity could emerge in mid- to late August

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly: “Our cases are increasing rapidly and a proportion will inevitably require hospitalisation.”   Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly: “Our cases are increasing rapidly and a proportion will inevitably require hospitalisation.” Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

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A large fourth wave driven by the Delta variant could pose “significant challenges” to non-Covid care before the end of August, with warnings that heavy caseloads would put “severe pressure” on the Health Service Executive.

While hospitalisations associated with Covid-19 remain low relative to pandemic highs recorded in January, the HSE said on Monday it was examining modelling and projections.

“It is possible that significant challenges to service capacity could emerge in mid- to late August. We will monitor the situation closely and any decisions re reduction/pausing of scheduled care will be taken initially at a site level and then nationally as required,” a spokesman said.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly also said he was “concerned that large caseloads will put severe pressure on the HSE”.

On Monday, there were 101 people with a Covid diagnosis in hospital, up from 63 a week previously – 20 are currently in intensive care. At the peak of the third wave in January, 2,020 people were hospitalised with the disease.

Mr Donnelly said that while the vaccination programme had been a huge success and the link between infection and serious illness “is weaker, it’s not broken”.

Young adults

“Our cases are increasing rapidly and a proportion will inevitably require hospitalisation,” he said, pointing to expectations in the UK of 1,000 hospitalisations per day. He pointed to rapidly rising incidence in young adults, most markedly in those aged 19-24, but also in those aged 25-34 and in adolescents, where most of the increase is accounted for by the 16-18 year age group.

The HSE added: “A key determinant of whether we see such challenges in August will be the impact of the vaccination programme on the general public and on staff.”

The three coalition leaders discussed the Covid situation on Monday. Sources expressed the hope that the trajectory of the disease could follow that in Scotland, where cases are reducing.

There were a further 1,071 cases of Covid-19 diagnosed on Monday. Dr Tony Holohan, the chief medical officer, said there was a rise in incidence across all key indicators, with the 14-day incidence of 231 per 100,000 the highest it had been since February 24th.

Meanwhile, a report into the controversy over the administration of vaccines by the Beacon Hospital found that it would have been “appropriate” to attempt to vaccinate healthcare workers before giving doses to teachers at St Gerard’s school in Bray.

The report by Eugene McCague, former managing partner of Arthur Cox solicitors, commissioned by the hospital, found the decision was “made in good faith” but was incorrect. It found the decision was made by Beacon’s chief executive Michael Cullen, acting alone.

International travel

The board of the Beacon Hospital said, having considered the findings of the report, “the board has determined that it retains full confidence in Michael Cullen, our CEO”.

Elsewhere, no major issues were reported as non-essential international travel resumed. Some 22,500 passengers passed through Dublin Airport, up from a recent average of 14,000 per day, but down 87 per cent on the same day in 2019. About 1,000 passengers flew through Cork Airport, up from an average of 500 per day recently – but down from its usual figure of between 8,000 and 10,000 per day at this time of year, before Covid.

In Britain, prime minister Boris Johnson defended the lifting on Monday of all legal restrictions to combat the virus, including all social distancing rules and the requirement to wear a face mask.

Britain recorded 39,950 new coronavirus cases on Monday, up from 34,471 recorded last Monday, and 19 new deaths from the virus.

An estimated 1.7 million people are self-isolating after being contacted directly by NHS Test and Trace or alerted by the anonymised contact tracing app.

Supermarkets and pub chains have warned of possible closures or reduced hours because of staff shortages, which have also hit transport services and the NHS itself.

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