Almost 64,000 cases of Covid-19 have been diagnosed in the last five days as the number of patients in hospital with the virus has surged to the highest level for almost a year.
As of Monday morning there were 1,308 people in hospital with Covid-19 of whom 49 are in ICU – the most since April 2nd of last year.
There were 172 new admissions overnight with 29 discharges. Despite increased admissions of patients with Covid-19, the number of patiens in ICU with the virus has remained relatively stable.
Case numbers for the bank holiday weekend were published on Monday afternoon and showed a total of 63,954 new cases of Covid-19 were diagnosed through PCR and antigen testing between Thursday, March 17th and Monday, March 21st.
Thursday, the 17th, saw 5,231 PCR-confirmed cases along with 8,322 registered through antigen testing on the HSE’s online portal. Friday, the 18th saw 5, 628 cases found through PCR testing and 6,313 on antigen. A further 4,787 PCR-confirmed cases were recorded on Saturday the 19th along with 6,774 positive antigen tests. PCR testing showed another 5,067 cases on Sunday the 20th while antigen tests recorded 7,177 postive results on the same day.
On Monday the 20th, the Health Protection Surveillance Centre was notified of an additional 4,024 PCR-confirmed cases and 10,361 cases by antigen testing.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has called for the HSE to declare the current overcrowding in hospitals as an emergency situation until Easter at the earliest.
INMO general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said the impact of 1,308 people in hospital with Covid-19 is having a knock-on effect with 570 patients on trollies.
“We have been ringing the alarm on this situation for far too long. We are not in a space in which our health service can cope with 570 patients on trolleys coupled with such high numbers of patients in our hospitals with Covid-19,” she warned.
“The Government must now revisit their decision on mask-wearing in indoor and crowded settings. There is a clear link between reduced transmission and mask wearing. Removing the mask requirement in congregated settings particularly with poor ventilation, is clearly having a detrimental impact in our hospitals.”
She also criticised the lack of ventilation in hospital pointing out in the week beween Feburary 28th and March 6th a total of 129 Covid-19 outbreaks were detected of whom 116 were in healthcare facilities.
“Air hygiene in hospitals is poor, Covid is an airborne pathogen and despite all the evidence the HSE has attached very little urgency, to the very real need for the introduction of hospital-wide air filtration and measurement systems,” she said.
Speaking on Monday Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris aid: “I think it’s very clear what we’re seeing in relation to the numbers of people who are getting Covid in our country and in terms of the number of people in hospital with Covid 19… it is very clear that Covid hasn’t gone away.
“This is a pandemic that we’re likely to be living with for the foreseeable future. This is a virus that we know continues to morph and evolve and the best and brightest brains in our scientific and medical community are working around the clock to try and keep ahead of it.
‘Very different situation’
“But we are in a very different situation. We are living in a country where people have had three vaccines and in some cases four, and we’re seeing the real benefit of that in terms of protecting people’s health and in terms of protecting people’s lives.
“So I do think we’re now very much in a place where we’d have to continue to live, live our lives in a world where Covid is present. And I think we’re all very aware after two, two and half years of talking about the various things that we can all do to try and keep each other safe.
“There’s no current proposal before government in that regard (mask use) to the very best of my knowledge. This is about people being vigilant in relation to their own situation.”
On Sunday Tánaiste Leo Varadkar had cautioned that approximately half of those who have been admitted to hospital and have tested positive for Covid-19 have been admitted for something else.
He also said Ireland was entering a second wave of the Omicron virus, but it was unlikely to see the re-imposition of restrictions.
Speaking at Sunday’s national day of commemoration for those who had died from Covid-19, Mr Varadkar said while the current case numbers are “a cause for concern” they are “not a cause for panic”. “We are monitoring the situation very tightly.”
He said the Government is considering whether a fourth vaccine dose needs to be started for those who are elderly or medically vulnerable. He said the expectation is that a fourth dose would be recommended to commence “around the middle of the year” rather than closer to the end of the year.
The number of people in ICU remains stable throughout the second surge of Omicron. There were 49 people in ICU on Monday morning, an increase of one.
Meanwhile, the HSE's director general Paul Reid has called on the 700,000 people who are now eligible for their booster vaccination (ie their third dose in most cases) to do so.
These people are now eligible because it has been three months since they had Covid-19 he explained to RTÉ radio's Today with Claire Byrne show.
Mr Reid also urged the public to “make their own judgement” and to continue to wear masks in congregated settings, on public transport and in care home settings.
There had been a “significant increase” in the last 14 days in the numbers being hospitalised. “We are still dealing with a highly transmissible virus.” A high percentage of patients were aged over 75 which led to further problems as there were fewer places in nursing homes because of Covid outbreaks.
The health system was under pressure, he said.
While the Omicron variant had a less severe impact, hospitals still had to implement infection controls which put pressure on spaces. Some hospitals had to cancel elective surgeries, but private hospitals were being utilised for elective care.
The situation would continue to be monitored, he added. “It all revolves around bed capacity.”
The higher levels of Omicron in the community had also led to increased levels of staff being absent – 4,200 last week. At the peak between 6,000 to 7,000 were not at work because of Covid. A further 900 staff at nursing homes were also absent because of the virus, he said.
It was not an unusual occurrence for some people to be reinfected in March having had the virus in January, said Mr Reid. After holiday weekends it was expected that levels of the virus in the community would rise, he added and that was also likely following the longer St Patrick’s weekend.
Mr Reid also encouraged parents to have their children vaccinated as only 25 percent of children aged five to 11 had received their first vaccine and only 18 percent had received their second vaccine. This was very important especially at a time when transmission levels in the community were so high. The more people who were boosted, the more protection there was for everyone.