Covid: Ireland not reached peak of current wave, says Holohan

Number of Covid patients in ICU tripled in recent weeks, intensive care society says

Ireland has still not reached the peak of the current wave of Covid-19, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan has warned, as 1,592 new cases of the virus were reported in the State.

The number of patients being treated in hospital for the disease now stands at 318, with 60 in intensive care units (ICUs), the Department of Health said on Monday evening.

The number in hospital for the disease has risen by four since Sunday morning, while the number in ICU has increased by one.

Responding to the latest figures, Dr Holohan said that over the course of the past seven days, 32 people with Covid-19 had been admitted to critical care facilities.


“The median age of those in ICU is 55 – this means that 50 per cent of the patients currently in ICU with Covid-19 are aged less than 55 years.”

He said the indications were that “we are still not at the peak of this wave of Covid-19 and that many people continue to experience severe illness due to Covid-19”.

“While our vaccination programme continues to offer great hope, at this point in time, only 53 per cent of 16-29 year olds are fully vaccinated. This age group continues to account for the highest incidence of Covid-19 in our population.”

He once again urged anyone who was eligible to receive a Covid-19 vaccine to get one as soon as possible, stating that it was vital that everyone completed their vaccination schedule.

He also called for people to consider the level of risk of each activity they take part in, to manage social contacts and to meet outdoors where possible, as well as reminding people of the need to continue to wash hands regularly and wear masks where necessary.

The latest numbers came as the president of the intensive care society warned that ICU capacity was limited and beds occupied by Covid patients would put pressure on cardiac, cancer and vascular care.

Colman O’Loughlin said the issue was a consequence of the number of Covid patients in ICU having tripled in the past few weeks.

Dr O’Loughlin said the three main groups of Covid patients being admitted to ICU were unvaccinated – mainly younger patients; vaccinated people with immunocompromised conditions; and vaccinated patients who nonetheless contracted the disease.

He said 60 per cent of those in ICU were not vaccinated.

During previous surges actions had been taken such as lockdowns or more restrictions, but now the plan appeared to be that restrictions would be eased because of the vaccination campaign. “This is unknown territory,” said Dr O’Loughlin. He said the concern was the “unpredictability of it”.

Galway outbreak

A Covid-19 outbreak at University Hospital Galway is adding to the “significant pressure” the service is experiencing, according to its management.

In a statement on Monday afternoon, the Saolta Hospital Group said an outbreak control team had been convened and visiting restrictions were in force across all affected wards.

There were 32 patients with the virus in the hospital, as of Sunday evening, the highest of any hospital in the State. There were 17 new cases either identified in or admitted to the hospital in the 24 hours leading to 8am on Sunday, according to a Health Service Executive (HSE) report. Seven of the Covid patients were being treated in the hospital’s ICU.

This comes alongside “record levels” of attendances at the Emergency Department, which is putting “significant pressure” on the hospital, according to the Saolta statement. Many are arriving at the department after having deferred care due to previous Covid surges and are now being admitted with complicated illnesses requiring longer periods, it continued.

While the hospital will facilitate patient visits in areas not affected by the outbreak, management requested that visitors attend only if “absolutely necessary”. The statement said the hospital currently allows one visitor per inpatient each day.

Earlier, Prof Philip Nolan said the State would reach a "high level" of Covid-19 protection from vaccines in mid-September, after which point the numbers of new cases should start to decline.

Prof Nolan, head of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) data modelling group, said 90 per cent of the adult population should be fully vaccinated by mid-September.

Phased reopening

Ministers are expected to proceed with the phased reopening over the autumn and winter, despite the recent surge in cases associated with the Delta variant.

The reopening plan will set timelines for the reopening of the arts and live entertainment sectors, religious services, indoor sports, workplaces, indoor events and leisure outlets such as bingo halls, arcades and casinos.

“In terms of protecting or offering a high level of protection against the disease, we are really not there yet. We should reach that in the course of September… from that point the number of infections in the population should start to slowly decline,” Prof Nolan said.

The risk of catching or spreading the virus “should reach its lowest point” by November or December, he told RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland.

At present 85 per cent of adults in the Republic are fully vaccinated, while 91 per cent are partially vaccinated and awaiting a second dose.

Nphet will meet on Wednesday to provide advice to Government, ahead of a Cabinet meeting on Friday where Ministers will discuss easing the remaining restrictions.

It was a “priority” to reopen schools and allow college students to return to “a near-normal third-level experience” over the coming weeks, Prof Nolan said.

In colleges there would be “some really large classes that will remain online, largely to slightly reduce the number of students on campus on any given day”.

Prof Nolan, who is also the outgoing president of Maynooth University, said while online teaching had worked during the pandemic, it was "simply not the same" as in-person lectures and classes.