Covid-19: ‘Unrelenting pressure’ on health service as 3,025 cases reported

Paul Reid says there ‘comes a point’ where no extra testing, vaccination or beds will help ‘turn tide’ of infection

Paul Reid said it was ‘too early to say’ if the recent leveling off in hospitalisations was a trend, but added that the number of Covid patients in ICU beds was affecting elective healthcare.File photograph: Sam Boal / Photocall Ireland

Daily increases in the spread of Covid-19 are putting "significant and unrelenting pressure" on the country's health service, Health Service Executive chief executive Paul Reid has said.

The National Public Health Emergency Team reported a further 3,025 cases of the virus on Thursday.

There are 458 coronavirus-infected people in hospital, including 90 patients in hospital intensive care units, which accounts for almost a third of the country’s ICU beds.

Mr Reid said it was “too early to say” if the recent leveling off in hospitalisations was a trend, but added that the number of Covid patients in ICU beds was affecting elective healthcare.

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The National Public Health Emergency Team’s (Nphet’s) projections of 1,000 people ending up in hospital next month “could very well still happen” with the rising number of new infections, he said.

Covid was putting a “very disproportionate set of demands” across the health service, he said. The absence of 3,500 staff due to the disease was “putting huge pressure” on the HSE.

He supported Nphet’s call for people to reduce their social contacts and limit activities in the coming weeks to reduce Covid-19 cases but was not calling for restrictions to be reintroduced.

“The actions of the health service alone won’t get us out of this current situation,” he said.

“If cases continue to rise, there comes a point when no additional testing, tracing or vaccination or hospital beds or ICU will help turn the tide.”

Mr Reid said that about 45 per cent of new Covid-19 cases were among vaccinated people.

New figures from the HSE showed the continuing disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on older and medically vulnerable people and the unvaccinated.

More than 60 per cent of hospitalisations have been among people aged 65 and over, while people aged 50 and over accounted for 72 per cent of patients in ICU. Some 52 per cent of patients in ICUs are unvaccinated, while 3 per cent are partially vaccinated.

HSE chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said the majority of ICU admissions between April 1st and October 30th - some 64 per cent - were unvaccinated and all but four of the 137 unvaccinated people in ICU had an underlying health condition.

Dr Henry said that during the third wave there were about 30 to 50 hospitalisaitons for every 1,000 cases and that this had fallen to about half that during this fourth wave due to vaccinations.

Mr Reid said that on average 1,800 people a day were getting vaccinated and that 33,000 people had received their first or second doses in the past week.

This puts the vaccinated population at more than 90 per cent of all people aged 12 and over with almost 92 per cent of this vaccine-eligible population in receipt at least one dose.

In addition, the HSE has administered more than 200,000 third booster doses.

Damien McCallion, the senior HSE official in charge of testing, said that the system was “coping but it is at full stretch” with “huge numbers” of tests being carried out.

Some 132,000 test swabs were taken in the community last week - a weekly increase of 16 per cent - and 167,000 lab tests were completed. There was a 20 per cent increase in referrals for tests.

About 1,000 antigen tests a day have been sent out to asymptotic close contacts of Covid cases.

On the booster jabs, Mr McCallion said that 48,000 third doses had been given to people who are immunocompromised and that the 25,000 to 30,000 people aged 65 and over living in long-term residential care facilities is “substantially complete”.

Some 143,000 people out of 161,000 aged 80 and over living in the community had been given third doses and the remainder would received theirs this month.

Mr McCallion said that it would take four to five weeks to give booster jabs to an estimated 336,000 people aged 70 and over through GPs from this week.

About 475,000 people aged 60 and over will receive their third doses through vaccination centres and this group will be substantially completed by the end of the December, he said.

Most of the 305,000 healthcare workers, including about 60,000 workers in long-term care facilities, would receive their booster doses over the next four to six weeks.

Booster doses are being offered about six months after their second primary dose.

Mr McCallion said the HSE was working on having booster doses for healthcare workers administered through pharmacies.

Mr Reid said that there were 53 pregnant or recently pregnant women admitted to ICU with Covid-19 up to October 31st, with 58 per cent since last August. Only one was fully vaccinated.

Vaccination levels among this vulnerable group have improved with Mr Reid pointing to an internal HSE survey showing that 58 per cent are fully vaccinated, up from 28 to 40 per cent a few weeks ago.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times