Coronavirus: 133 patients in intensive care as pressure on hospitals builds

Chief medical officers in North and Republic to formally co-ordinate responses, says O’Neill

An empty Merrion Square, Dublin. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

An empty Merrion Square, Dublin. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Intensive care units are under significant pressure with more than 130 patients being treated at the moment, the president of the Intensive Care Society of Ireland said on Tuesday.

Dr Catherine Motherway said 107 patients with Covid-19 were on ventilators and another 26 suspected cases are also being treated in intensive care.

“The number of cases are rising and there is no doubt that the hospitals in the east are being hit first, as we expected, and are under significant pressure.”

She said while cases were surging, hospitals were managing to deal with the case load. One measure being taken by hospitals was to transfer patients to other hospitals in the group where there was capacity.

Main points:

“At the moment they are coping with the numbers but there is no doubt that we’re under significant pressure and we’re quite concerned that we will be able to control the surge. Now we can’t control it, the people that are listening to you and me, can control it by staying at home,” she told the Seán O’Rourke Show on RTÉ Radio One.

The chief medical officers in the Republic and Northern Ireland are to sign a memorandum of understanding formalising co-ordination and co-operation between the Irish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive this week, according to Sinn Féin.

The Deputy First Minister, Michelle O’Neill, issued a statement following a meeting between Ministers on both sides of the Border to discuss the response to the coronavirus outbreak.

“The Covid-19 pandemic does not respect borders,” Ms O’Neill said. “Co-operation and common action across our island is vital at this time.”

The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) is meeting on Tuesday to decide on measures to curb the spread of the virus in nursing homes. A HSE analysis has showed there have been 22 outbreaks of coronavirus so far reported in nursing homes across the State.

In addition to those measures, extra checks on citizens returning to the Republic from abroad are under consideration by senior officials in the Department of Health to deal with the crisis.

Funerals

The Government has also advised that immediate family members can still attend burials and cremations as long as social isolation practices are adhered to, once there are no more than 10 people attending. This applies to all funerals, including those of people who had contracted coronavirus, also known as Covid- 19.

It also emerged on Tuesday that people over 70 years old who have been instructed to “cocoon” in their homes can nominate an agent to collect their pension, the Government has said.

This pension payment will remain valid in post offices and available for collection for 90 days by people who opt not to have someone collect it.

The nominated person can download a form and it can be filled out if the older person cannot do this themselves.

Banks will also facilitated nominated agents.

The Government has also advised that no more than 10 people at a time should attend funerals.

The Government is also working with embassies abroad to repatriate Irish people abroad. A number of new flights have been arranged from Australia in addition to a flight from Perth last week. The Government are also exploring options for Irish citizens in New Zealand.

It has also been confirmed during a Government briefing on Tuesday morning that a shared bike scheme will continue to operate as they are regularly used by hospital and other essential service operators.

Irish Water has postponed new tariffs for business during the crisis.

The department of An Taoiseach have confirmed a new coronavirus mobile app is being worked on by Department of Health and HSE as well as Government chief information office.

Domestic violence

Domestic violence is being closely monitored on a daily basis, Government says. Garda say that all victims will receive a personal call back within seven days or sooner.

The Chair of the Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group and a member of the National Public Health Emergency Team, Prof Philip Nolan has said that the next seven days will be crucial as an indication if the virus is being contained.

Prof Nolan said that looking the rate of increase over the last five days, it had fallen to around 15 per cent and this is a testament to how carefully people have observed the restrictions that have been introduced.

But it will not be enough to successfully contain the disease. Social distancing measures have had a very big impact – but the impact of measures taken last Friday will not be known for another seven days.

Prof Nolan said the experts do not know when the virus will peak, the objective is to suppress the virus so that the peak is very late and very low.

We will be living with the virus for quite some period of time and will have to adapt to this, he said. This is a long, slow battle against a new disease which was unknown prior to last December. “We will have to adapt to slow its progress.”

‘Good level of confidence’

On Newstalk Breakfast Prof Nolan said he had “a good level of confidence” in the matrix being used for testing. He acknowledged that not everyone who has the virus has been tested, but the figures to date give a good indication.

The situation was that between 20 per cent and 60 per cent of cases could go undetected because the symptoms are so mild, that was why it was important for everyone to take steps to self isolate. “That is the safe and correct thing to do.”

“The next seven days are crucial to show that we’re capable of containing the virus. Then we will know where to go next in containing that suppression.”

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Revenue Commissioners has urged employers to be careful when filling out applications for the Government’s coronavirus wage subsidy scheme.

Niall Cody said there were 26,000 employers in the scheme already, but hundreds had entered incorrect bank details.

This means Revenue is “sitting on money” that it wants to pay, he said. On Monday €8 million was paid to the scheme and €9 million will be paid on Tuesday.

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