Covid-19: Minister says Christmas ‘free for all’ not on the cards as 318 cases reported

HSE figures show seven patients contracting disease in Irish hospitals a day on average

An average of seven patients a day are contracting Covid-19 while in the State’s hospitals, according to new figures. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

An average of seven patients a day are contracting Covid-19 while in the State’s hospitals, according to new figures. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

A further 318 cases of Covid-19 and one death were reported in the State on Sunday, as a Cabinet member warned that a Christmas “free-for-all” is not on the cards.

In a statement on Sunday evening, the Department of Health confirmed there has now been 70,461 confirmed cases and 2,023 deaths related to the coronavirus disease in the State.

Of the latest cases, 126 were in Dublin, with 45 in Cork, 28 in Limerick, 21 in Donegal, 18 in Kildare and the remaining 80 spread across 18 other counties.

The 14-day incidence rate of the disease stands at 109.1 cases per 100,000 people, with the highest rates occurring in Donegal (231.2), Limerick (208.3) and Louth (205.6).

The rate in Dublin is above the national average at 119.9 cases per 100,000 people, with the lowest rates in Wexford (37.4), Laois (60.2) and Wicklow (61.1).

The department said that as of 2pm on Sunday, 282 people with Covid-19 are in hospital, with 31 of the patients in intensive care.

Government officials are continuing to assess the options for easing restrictions when six weeks of the most severe, Level 5 coronavirus restrictions come to an end on December 1st.

Opposition parties, business groups and some Coalition TDs have been urging the Government to clarify what will happen next. Asked when these plans might be announced, a Government spokeswoman on Sunday said that “we’re expecting an announcement later this week”.

‘Buckle down’

Meanwhile, Minister of State Pippa Hackett on Sunday appealed to people to “buckle down” for the remainder of the Level 5 period. She said people “young and old should be really coming together to do this”.

“There is no point indicating to people we are going to open up for two weeks at Christmas because that is just a free for all,” she said on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics when asked about plans for Christmas.

“Do we open for a couple of weeks and then shut back down in January? I don’t think that suits any business model and I don’t think that is particularly the message that we should be sending out.”

However, she said the Government wanted everyone to have a meaningful Christmas where they could celebrate together.

Ms Hackett acknowledged that there was deep frustration among restaurateurs and publicans who still cannot open despite having put in place the health measures they were told they needed. The scale at which the hospitality sector is allowed to reopen next month is expected to be a key battleground in the talks between Government and health officials this week.

The Minister of State said the number of Covid-19 cases being recorded remained a concern and that it was difficult for the Government to provide certainty for businesses as they did not want a situation where businesses open before Christmas and are then forced to close again.

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland’s Department of Health on Sunday reported10 further deaths from Covid-19, bringing the death toll recorded by the department since the pandemic began to 933, and 342 new cases of the disease.

Six of the deaths occurred over a 24-hour period between Saturday and Sunday morning, with the other four deaths happening earlier but only now being reported. The total number of confirmed cases in the North now stands at 49,784.

Meanwhile, new figures show an average of seven patients a day are contracting Covid-19 while in the State’s hospitals.

A total of 205 patients were infected with the virus in hospital in the four weeks ending on November 8th, according to the figures compiled by the HSE.

This represents a sharp rise in hospital-acquired virus infections compared with the preceding months. A total of 299 cases of hospital-acquired Covid-19 have been reported since June 21st, when a new surveillance system was put in place to track these kind of cases.

This equates to an average of about one in 1,000 inpatients getting hospital-acquired Covid-19 during that period, the HSE says.

Hospitals have again become a front line during this second surge of virus cases, with large outbreaks reported in many such settings.

Services have had to be curtailed at hospitals in Letterkenny, Naas and Limerick due to staff becoming infected or having to stay at home after being identified as close contacts of positive cases.

Inpatient tests

Healthcare workers account for about 700 out of 5,400 coronavirus cases, or about 13 per cent of that total, occurring in the last fortnight. The HSE recently ordered all hospitals to test all arriving inpatients for the virus.

The Irish Times reported in July that 265 patients picked up Covid-19 while in hospital for other conditions, and at least 79 of these patients had died. This is separate from the more than 1,000 deaths of residents in nursing homes and other residential institutions that have happened here during the pandemic.

The HSE was unable to provide an update for the former fatality figures this weekend. According to a spokeswoman, the new surveillance system for hospital-acquired infections does not collect information on patient outcomes.

This is because the information is reported weekly to ensure the HSE has “a very timely view of the situation”, so the outcome for most patients is not known at the time.

In addition, the spokeswoman says, “the determination of the cause of death in each individual person is complex. 

“While Covid-19 is clearly the principal cause of death for some people, in other people who were already very seriously ill the contribution of the infection to their death can be difficult to determine.”

The test positivity rate for coronavirus tests now stands at 3.3 per cent, well down on the 7.2 per cent recorded in mid-October.

Only Finland and Iceland have a lower incidence of Covid-19 than the State at present when it comes to European nations, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

Case numbers are stable or declining in the Republic and 14 other European countries. The death rate is stable or declining in the Republic and three other European countries – Liechtenstein, Czech Republic and Sweden.