Coronavirus: Ireland should ‘look seriously’ at closing borders to keep new infections out

Ten more deaths and 200 new cases bring death toll in Republic of Ireland to 46 and case total to 2,615

Defence Forces vehicles transport personal protective equipment from  Dublin Airport after its arrival from China. Photograph: Tom Honan

Defence Forces vehicles transport personal protective equipment from Dublin Airport after its arrival from China. Photograph: Tom Honan

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The Government should consider closing the country’s borders to prevent new coronavirus infections coming into the State, one of the leading infectious diseases experts has said.

Dr Paddy Mallon, a consultant at St Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin and professor of microbial diseases at UCD, said a major risk to the State was more new Covid-19 infections coming in.

“We have got our own outbreak in the country that we are trying to extinguish but the big threat is new infections coming in,” he said.

“We should be looking seriously over the next week at protecting our borders and stopping new infections coming in because it will give us the ability to control the infections that we have.”

The warning comes as the Health Service Executive said it was “impossible to predict” the timing of the peak of infections but it was planning for the worst of the crisis to hit by mid-April.

Prof Sam McConkey of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland called for political leadership to build a “unity government that helps us beat the virus in the next few months” in order to fast-track debate on possible stricter travel and quarantine rules and tracing technology for individuals.

“In a political system that is used to slow deliberation, it will not be an easy task to achieve an agreed outcome in a few days,” Prof McConkey writes in an opinion piece in Monday’s Irish Times.

Ages of dead

State officials reported another 10 deaths from coronavirus, bringing the death toll from the disease in the Republic to 46. There were a further 200 cases confirmed, bring the total to 2,615.

A further six deaths and 86 new cases were reported in Northern Ireland, bringing the total number of deaths on the island of Ireland to 67 and cases to 3,025.

Details of the ages of the first 33 people to die from coronavirus in the Republic were disclosed in official figures over the weekend. Some 29 of the dead – as of March 26th – were over the age of 65, while one person died from each of the 25-34, 35-44, 45-54 and 55-64 age groups.

The number of critically ill Covid-19 patients in intensive care units (ICU) was more evenly spread, with the youngest aged between five and 14. Thirty-three were aged between 45 and 64, and 24 people were over 65.

The HSE said it was preparing for a surge of coronavirus cases with 1,200 critical care beds, but could not say by how much the State’s ICU capacity would be exceeded at peak.

ICU concerns

Some 88 Covid-19-infected patients were in ICU on Saturday and there were 167 ICU beds still available, as the HSE scales up the number of critical care beds with life-saving ventilators.

Army vehicles escorted by An Garda leave Dublin Airport with a cargo of newly delivered Covid-19 equipment just in from China. Photograph: Tom Honan
Army vehicles escorted by An Garda leave Dublin Airport with a cargo of newly delivered Covid-19 equipment just in from China. Photograph: Tom Honan

Paul Reid, chief executive of the HSE, said given the surge in critically ill Covid-19 patients needing ICU beds – almost a sevenfold increase in over nine days – the possibility of the State’s ICU bed capacity being reached in just more than two weeks was “a very significant concern”.

Health officials warned the public that complying with the Government’s “cocooning” direction for the over-70s and the medically vulnerable to stay at home for two weeks was “critical” to avoid ICU units being overrun by mid-April. Such compliance was also critical to avoid those at greatest risk of death being infected.

The first shipment of vitally needed personal protective equipment, part of a €28 million order, arrived on an Aer Lingus flight from China on Sunday afternoon.

However, new issues emerged with testing for Covid-19 as Mr Reid said the State was “hitting very significant pinch points” in carrying out tests, due to the shortage of reagents, the extraction element used in test kits that go to laboratories.

A lack of testing kits led to the closure of the State’s largest testing facility at the Páirc uí Chaoimh GAA ground in Cork. The HSE said there had been “limited testing nationally” on Sunday due to the short supply of testing materials.

More than 15,000 people are still waiting to be tested.

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