Coronavirus: 7,836 new cases and 17 further deaths

‘Evidence of an increasing presence of the UK variant in Ireland,’ says chief medical officer

State chief medical officer Tony Holohan said ‘the country is in a serious phase of this surge of Covid-19’. Photograph: Collins

State chief medical officer Tony Holohan said ‘the country is in a serious phase of this surge of Covid-19’. Photograph: Collins

 

Ireland’s Covid-19 infection rate continued to soar out of control on Wednesday with the announcement of a further 7,836 cases and 17 deaths.

At the same time as Government was tightening restrictions aimed at curbing the spread, State chief medical officer Tony Holohan said the presence of the UK variant of the virus is also increasing.

As of midnight on Tuesday, the new figures brought total deaths in the Republic to 2,299 and infections to 121,154. More than one in five people tested for the virus are now positive.

By 2pm on Wednesday there were 954 people in hospital, of which 88 were in intensive care, significant figures for a health service bracing itself for ever-growing numbers of patients. In the preceding 24 hours there were 105 additional hospitalisations.

The continuing deterioration of Ireland’s Covid-19 battle prompted Dr Holohan to once again press home the message that members of the public must stay at home and only meet people elsewhere for essential reasons.

“The country is in a serious phase of this surge of Covid-19,” he said on Wednesday evening.

“There is evidence of an increasing presence of the UK variant in Ireland. All counties have an upward trajectory of the disease. There is concerning escalation of admissions to hospital and ICU. We are very likely to see escalating mortality and ICU admissions in the coming days and weeks.”

Of the latest cases, 4,078 are women (52 per cent) and 3,740 are men. Almost two-thirds (63 per cent) are under 45 years of age with a median age of 36.

Once again the greatest proportion of cases (2,263 or 29 per cent) were recorded in Dublin, with 1,373 in Cork, 496 in Louth, 345 in Limerick, 340 in Meath and the remaining 3,019 spread across the rest of the country.

In the last seven days almost 172,000 people had been tested for the virus and there was a positivity rate of 21.8 per cent, or slightly more than one in five people.

Nationally, the 14-day incidence rate per 100,000 people is at 819, with the highest country rates in Monaghan (1,639), Louth (1,528) and Limerick (1,252). The lowest rates have been recorded in Wicklow (381), Tipperary (392) and Leitrim (477).

Global data from John Hopkins University show Ireland’s daily infection rates per 1 million people spiking at a far higher rate than other countries since the new year.

By January 4th, the rate had peaked at 1,237, compared to 868 in the UK, the next highest number recorded.

By comparison, Australia, South Korea and Japan had remained somewhat constant with rates at between 0.5 and 26.

Tight restrictions

As a consequence of this deteriorating situation the Government has agreed further lockdown measures to try and curb rising figures. They include keeping schools closed but allowing Leaving Cert students to attend three days per week and to close non-essential construction projects. The new measures will be in place until at least the end of January.

Other measures include childcare only open for essential workers and vulnerable children, click and collect from non-essential retail no longer allowed and a ban on travellers from UK and South Africa lifted but they must provide a PCR test.

Earlier HSE chief executive Paul Reid said the number of people being treated in hospital for Covid-19 has surpassed the peak level seen durng the first wave of the pandemic, .

Mr Reid said this morning that there was 921 people in hospital with the disease, compared to 881 at the peak of the first wave. HSE figures show 101 people with Covid-19 were hospitalised in the previous 24 hours, with 59 others discharged.

He said there were 75 people in intensive care units (ICU) countrywide, which is less than half the number seen at the peak in April.

“Healthy people are getting very sick. Everyone gets how serious this is now. Let’s all do what’s needed, turn this around, save lives, whilst the vaccine arrives. We have to,” said Mr Reid.

The number of people being treated in hospital for the disease has almost quadrupled in the last fortnight, rising from 237 on December 22nd to 921 today.

Dr Mary Favier of the Irish College of General Practitioners warned on Wednesday that “the worst is yet to come” with regard to Covid-19 hospitalisations. She said the system was going to have a difficult time “staying upright”.

She told RTÉ’s Today programme there is a two week lag between people testing positive and needing hospitalisation. She said that in her own practice there is a 50 per cent positivity rate among people being tested.

The Government is in talks with private hospital operators about securing additional capacity to help during the surge.

Burden on ICU

Intensive care consultant Catherine Motherway warned that the increased Covid-19 figures are placing a burden on ICU departments.

Dr Motherway, who is head of the intensive care unit at the Mid-Western University Regional hospital in Limerick, told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that there were “significant Covid admissions” at the hospital and a number of outbreaks on site.

“We are coping, but we’re under pressure.”

Dr Motherway said that she hoped that the figures would drop in the community under Level 5 restrictions as the rate of transmission was higher this time compared with the last lockdown and the spread of the virus was across the country not just on the east coast.

“We are extremely worried that we will see continued transmission and hospitalisations.”

As the number of cases rises, there will be more people who will require hospitalisation “and we will see more in ICU,” she said, adding that if everyone stayed at home then the numbers would reduce.

She said that rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine gives some hope, but people still needed to be careful “there’s no point dying of this disease while waiting for the vaccine”.

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