Holohan urges people to work from home as ICU total nears 200

Thirteen more deaths and 2,944 cases of Covid-19 reported by Nphet

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan:  “There is no group who should feel the public health advice does not apply to them. It is only if we act together that we can keep ourselves, our loved ones and health and social care facilities safe.”  Photograph: Collins

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan: “There is no group who should feel the public health advice does not apply to them. It is only if we act together that we can keep ourselves, our loved ones and health and social care facilities safe.” Photograph: Collins

 

A further 13 deaths of patients with Covid-19 have been reported by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), bringing to 2,608 the total number of deaths in the Republic during the pandemic.

Nphet also reported another 2,944 confirmed cases of the disease, bringing to 172,726 the total number of cases in the Republic.

On Sunday afternoon, 1,928 Covid-19 patients were hospitalised, of whom 195 were in ICU. There were 68 additional hospitalisations in the previous 24 hours.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan described the situation in hospitals as stark. “We are seeing people of all ages being admitted to hospital and being taken into intensive care units. The levels of infection are such that your chances of transmitting or getting Covid-19 are very high, and we know that a proportion of those cases will lead to serious illness and mortality.

“There is no group who should feel the public health advice does not apply to them. It is only if we act together that we can keep ourselves, our loved ones and health and social care facilities safe.

“As we look forward to the week ahead, consider your choices and make the right ones. Do not go into work tomorrow if you can work from home. If you are an employer, facilitate remote working for your employees.”

Of the new cases, 1,065 cases were in Dublin, 306 in Cork, 181 in Galway, 180 in Kildare and 160 in Limerick, with the remaining 1,052 cases spread across all other counties. The median age is 40 years, and 57 per cent are under 45 years of age.

The 14-day incidence of the disease now stands at 1,488 cases per 100,000 people nationally. Monaghan has the highest county incidence, followed by Louth and Waterford.

The median age of those who died is 83 years, and the age range is 66 to 97 years, Nphet reported. There were no newly reported deaths among healthcare workers.

Earlier, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the Covid-19 surge in hospitals is expected to peak “in the next week or two” and that the number of patients in intensive care units will continue to rise until then.

The hospital system would continue “to be under very significant pressure for the next two weeks” but he said a lot of work had been done since the first wave of the virus.

All nursing homes will have their first vaccination dose by next Sunday, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said. File photograph: Laura Hutton
All nursing homes will have their first vaccination dose by next Sunday, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said. File photograph: Laura Hutton

“Most importantly we have the staff,” he stressed, adding that there was surge capacity of 350 critical care beds, with deals in place with the private hospitals for 40 or 50 beds. Sufficient ventilators were in place and “about 1,500 nurses have been trained in ICU”.

New variant

Virologist Dr Cillian De Gascun, who is director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory, has highlighted the threat posed by the new variant first detected in the UK. He said it was inevitable that it would become the dominant variant in Ireland.

“Due to the nature of the mutation found in the UK variant of the virus, it is inevitable that it will become the dominant variant here in Ireland over time,” he said on Saturday. “The UK variant has adapted to us: simply put, it is better at moving from person to person when we come into contact.

Pressure is mounting in hospitals as efforts to roll out the vaccine in Ireland continue. Over the weekend, around 1,800 GPs, practice nurses and other healthcare staff received Moderna jabs at mass vaccination centres in Dublin, Galway and Portlaoise.

Mr Donnelly said all nursing home residents will have received their first vaccination dose by this day next week.

He said 140,000 doses would have been administered by the end of next week, split 50:50 between nursing home residents and frontline workers.

Mr Donnelly said he had asked the HSE and Government to look at getting supplies of the AstraZeneca vaccine into the State in advance of the vaccine being approved. This would allow use of the vaccine to begin immediately after it is approved.

Speaking on RTÉ’s This Week programme, the Minister said “every day counts” in terms of getting vulnerable people vaccinated, but that “there are regulatory issues” and the co-operation of the company was required in satisfying them.

Beacon

He defended the vaccination of some private healthcare staff after criticism that Beacon Hospital workers were being inoculated while frontline workers in public hospitals facing a major surge in Covid-19 cases were not.

Mr Donnelly said there was no difference between a nurse or doctor working in a private or public hospital, if they are working in “patient facing” roles.

Speaking on Newstalk’s On the Record with Gavan Reilly, Mr Donnelly called on the Beacon Hospital to sign up to the same contract the other private hospitals had. It would be “very regrettable” if the hospital refused to sign up.

He said the Beacon had set up a mass vaccination centre “off their own bat” which the HSE had looked at favourably, and it had vaccinated over 1,000 HSE staff who otherwise would have to go to St James’s Hospital, which was dealing with the Covid crisis.

The Minister also said he would look again at the merits of putting a 14-day quarantine period for recent arrivals into the State on a statutory basis in the context of concern over new variants of the virus.

“I would like to see – given the UK variant and the huge damage it is causing – is that now something we could look at?”

There had been a lot of tightening up on restrictions on travel, he noted. Anyone flying into the country will have to have a negative PCR test three days before travel. On arrival, passengers have to restrict their movements for 14 days unless they get a second test after five days, but the 14 days of restrictions remain for those travelling from South Africa and Britain.

The Minister also defended the controversial planned €81,000 salary increase for the incoming secretary general of the Department of Health, bringing it to €292,000.

He said the salary is not for any particular individual but for the role of the secretary general.

“It reflects the very significant additional workload that is the reality of being the secretary general in health with a budget of €22 billion.

The health service is potentially facing the most challenging week in its history, Minister for State at the Department of Rural and Community Development, Joe O’Brien, said.

An estimated 6,500 HSE staff are currently out sick with Covid-19 and last night training of student nurses and midwives was suspended for an initial two weeks so that more than 100 experienced nursing staff involved in training could return to the wards.