Ireland at ‘point of unease and apprehension’ in Covid-19 fight, says Paul Reid

Another 304 cases of the disease are confirmed in the State, with 13 in ICU

Paul  Reid said the rise in cases of Delta variant of coronavirus is a “concerning trend”.  Photograph: Sasko Lazarov / Photocall Ireland

Paul Reid said the rise in cases of Delta variant of coronavirus is a “concerning trend”. Photograph: Sasko Lazarov / Photocall Ireland

 

Ireland is at a “point of unease and apprehension” in relation to how Covid-19 is progressing, HSE chief executive Paul Reid has said.

Speaking at the health service’s weekly briefing Mr Reid said the rise in cases of Delta variant of coronavirus, which spreads more quickly and is more resistant to incomplete vaccine regimes, is a “concerning trend”.

He said there is sure to be growth in the prevalence of the virus here. “There’s no doubt, as sure as night follows day, this is going to go in one particular direction.”

While he pointed to significant stability and an overall positive situation with regard to the virus in Ireland he said it was still unknown how the Delta variant and other possible variants would impact the State.

“New variants can set us back just at any stage where we think we have victory in our sights, we have to do everything just to not let this happen”

On the advice the HSE would give to Government, he said firstly it would be that “we can’t let what happened again happen to our health service, going back to the dark days of January and February”

Clinical teams, he said, are exhausted after 16 months of dealing with Covid, a “horrendous” first quarter, and the impact of the cyber attack.

However, when questioned later, Mr Reid added that it would be “hard to envisage that we go back to over 2,000 people in hospital and 212 people in ICU”, but that the impact of the Delta variant was still hard to estimate.

Mr Reid said what is known with the vaccines is that they offer “very strong protection” against Delta after a second dose.

“The second dose is really important… we still have a significant element of the population to get either their first dose vaccination or indeed to get fully protected,” he said, adding that the State is “still at a vulnerable stage in relation to the virus”.

“We are certainly in a stronger position, but we have to protect our health system again.” He said the advice to Government from the HSE is that strong progress is being made in terms of vaccines, hospitalisations and ICU, but that the “unknown is the variant and its impact”.

He added that a letter had been sent recently from the chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan to the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) setting out a request to evaluate a few issues, “in particular in terms of the potential for the use of AstraZeneca in younger ages and also in relation to the potential mixing of vaccines”.

Depending on delivery schedules, there may be “hundreds of thousands” of spare AstraZeneca vaccines available in coming weeks after the State has administered second doses of it to those aged over 60, the Tánaiste has said.

Asked what would become of these vaccines Mr Reid said: “That’s part of the consideration that Niac have been asked to look at by the CMO. None of us want a situation where we have a stock here that we’re not utilising and we don’t have people vaccinated. So that’s a situation we’d all like to avoid, certainly from a HSE perspective.”

Dr Colm Henry, chief clinical officer of the HSE said there had been “a dislocation between the number of cases and the degree of harm caused by that virus, because of the vaccination programme”.

He too said he expects the Delta variant to become dominant in Ireland. He said 27 per cent of cases were associated with travel, 51 per cent were close contacts and the balance were community transmission.

Dr Henry said the most “easy prey” for the delta variant was among those who are not fully vaccinated, and due to the impact of the programme, these would largely be younger people and those without underlying illness, who are less likely to become seriously ill due to the effect of the virus.

Nonetheless, he warned that the UK was still seeing a “surge in hosptialisation, driven largely by people who are unvaccinated or semi-vaccinated, but still including some people who are fully vaccinated”.

“Despite the successes and the penetration of the vaccine programme, there’s considerable capacity for the delta variant to cause harm,” he said.

The 14-day incidence rate of Covid-19 in the country remains below 100 cases per 100,000 population.

Another 304 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in the State by the Department of Health on Thursday afternoon.

The department also said the number in hospital with the disease now stands at 47, 13 of whom are in ICU.