The number of Covid-19 patients in hospital could top 2,200 within the next 10 days, Ministers believe, amid increasing pressure on the Government to re-examine restrictions.
The Coalition is reluctant to reimpose any measures and currently intends to allow emergency Covid-19 public health laws lapse on Thursday.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the extra transmissibility of the BA.2 subvariant means “quite extreme measures” would be needed to contain it.
He told an online meeting of Fianna Fáil members on Monday night that there were likely several hundred thousand cases of Covid every week, with daily numbers several times higher than those being tracked by PCR and antigen tests.
However, a stakeholders’ taskforce has written to Mr Donnelly seeking fresh public advice amid concern about rising case numbers.
The Emergency Department (ED) Taskforce, which monitors overcrowding in hospitals, urged Mr Donnelly to convene “the necessary public health resources and advisors to consider any and all measures that may now be appropriate in order to provide an increased level of protection to health and social care service provision”.
Updated Covid-19 modelling has been sought by Government, but a senior source said that, based on an analysis of recent data, there could be a peak of 2,000-2,200 Covid-19 hospitalisations in the next seven to 10 days, and the figure would then “fall fast”.
The ED Taskforce, which is co-chaired by the HSE’s chief operating officer, Anne O’Connor, and the general secretary of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, Phil Ní Sheaghdha, met on Monday.
There were 1,624 people in hospital with coronavirus on Monday, of whom 54 were in intensive care units.
Mr Donnelly said the transmissibility of the BA.2 subvariant meant that extremely restrictive measures would be needed to contain it, and said that he was told by chief medical officer Tony Holohan that extra restrictions of this level were not currently advised.
Sources said he told the Fianna Fáil meeting that about half the 54 people in critical care units who had Covid were there because of the virus, and that about the same number were not fully vaccinated.
On masks, he told the meeting that while the legal requirement to wear masks had been disposed of, the public health advice to do so had been retained.
‘Well into April’
HSE chief Paul Reid said on Monday the experience of other countries in Europe was that the current variant waned after a while, so that meant Ireland was likely to be dealing with the current wave of the virus “well into April”.
He was speaking as the Department of Health announced that 39,561 cases of Covid-19 had been recorded in the last three days.
While hospitals are dealing with the most severe effects from the latest Covid wave, it has had a knock-on effect on other sectors including aviation, with Dublin Airport experiencing long delays due to staff shortages.
Its operator, DAA, said it had set up a taskforce to consider emergency measures including the possible opening of security desks on a 24-hour basis and speeding up the placement of new recruits.