Covid-19: Record 16,428 cases reported with 22 deaths notified in past week

Everyone should consider themselves potentially infectious, says Holohan

A record 16,428 new confirmed cases of Covid-19 have been reported in the State.

A further 22 coronavirus-related deaths were also notified in the past week, the Department of Health said in a statement on Wednesday.

As of 8am on 568 Covid-19 patients were hospitalised, of whom 93 were in intensive care units. The State’s Covid-19 data hub shows there were 107 new cases of the virus in hospitals over the previous 24 hours while 48 people were discharged.

The State’s chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said: “In recent days, we have seen a rise in new admissions to hospital of Covid-19 patients, at levels not seen since January 2021. On two consecutive days this week, over 100 patients with Covid-19 were either admitted to hospital or received a ‘detected’ test result while in hospital.

“Given the very high levels of transmission of this new variant nationwide, every individual should consider themselves potentially infectious, and strictly adhere to the public health measures.”

The positivity rate of PCR tests for Covid-19 was 34.9 per cent over the last seven days.

The HSE’s chief operations officer Anne O’Connor defended the PCR testing system, pointing out that between 30,000 to 40,000 tests are being carried out every day which is an unprecedented level.

She said she understood if people were upset that they could not get an appointment, but the system “can only do so much”.

"If you have a positive [antigen] test, please treat it as if you have the virus," she told RTÉ's Morning Ireland on Wednesday.

Ms O’Connor said at present the healthcare system was coping well but that figures were growing every day.

There were 668 acute beds available in the system on Wednesday, but that was down from 1,126 on Tuesday, she said.

Ms O’Connor said there would be pressure on capacity in hospitals next week – as there usually is after Christmas, but this year such pressure would be compounded by staffing levels which are reduced because staff are close contacts.

“We can’t run a service without staff,” she said. Under a derogation agreement, staff who are a close contact but are asymptomatic can return to work following a risk assessment and subject to regular antigen tests.

“We need them at work,” she added.

Ms O'Connor said at present Model 3 hospitals such as Letterkenny, Mullingar and Tullamore were very busy and would soon run out of beds, while larger Model 4 hospitals like Beaumont, the Mater and St James's were also "quite busy".

Capacity will be challenged in the coming weeks, she said, but patients requiring care for cancer and cardiac conditions would be prioritised. She said capacity in private hospitals would also be accessed.

“This will pass, we just need to get through the next few weeks,” she added.

A member of the National Covid-19 GP Liaison Committee, Dr Ray Walley has called on the public not to contact GP surgeries in an effort to speed up access to PCR testing in an interview on RTÉ radio's News at One. Dr Walley said that most people who had the Omicron variant were experiencing mild symptoms. The focus should not be on testing but on the need to isolate.

People aged 30-39 are to be invited to receive Covid-19 booster shotsfrom Wednesday, the HSE has said.

People aged 16-29 who received a Janssen primary dose will also be invited for a booster vaccine, in line with guidance from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac).

One of the first HSE Covid-19 vaccination clinics for children aged 5-11 was held in Citywest vaccination centre on Wednesday.

Covid-19 vaccines are being introduced for children aged 5-11 over the coming weeks, with those at highest risk from the virus being offered vaccines first, in line with Niac guidance.

Clinics are being run in paediatric hospitals or vaccination clinics for children.

Those aged 5-11 years who have a health condition that puts them at risk of severe illness from Covid-19 or live with someone who is at higher risk from the virus can register for their vaccine now. All other children will be invited to register during January 2022.

HSE chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said vaccines would be given to children between five and 11 in a smaller dose than the adult dose.

Chief Medical Officer of Children's Health Ireland (CHI), Dr Allan Goldman has urged all eligible children to avail of vaccination.

"Although severe disease is rare, it does occur and can occur in children who were previously well. We would urge parents to seek information on the vaccination from reputable and scientific sources like hse.ie," he said. "A small number of patients of CHI at Temple Street, Crumlin, Tallaght and Connolly identified as in the highest clinical risk by paediatricians, are being vaccinated at the earliest opportunity at a dedicated clinic. If parents know that their child has an underlying medical condition, we would urge them to register their child on the HSE website now."

Meanwhile, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said Ireland is likely to "overcome" the Omicron wave of Covid-19 infections more quickly than earlier waves.

While January would be a “difficult” month due to infections and work absences, the number of virus patients in hospital would be lower than last winter, he told The Irish Times.

In an upbeat assessment of the current, record-breaking wave of cases, Mr Varadkar said Covid-19 infections were likely to be very high “for the next few days” and to peak “in the next week or so”.