Reintroduce mask-wearing rules, say ‘exhausted’ hospital staff

Taoiseach confirms that pandemic emergency powers will be allowed expire

‘Our hospitals have been hanging together by a thread of goodwill of staff but that is about to snap.’ Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Emergency doctors and nurses have called for the reintroduction of mandatory mask-wearing and working from home to help curb the spread of Covid-19.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation and the Irish Association for Emergency Medicine say hospitals are overwhelmed and staff need "real assistance".

In addition to very serious patient risks, frontline staff are exhausted dealing with “wave upon wave” of Covid-19 patients, the two organisations say.

They have called on the Government, public health officials and the HSE to revisit public health measures, including mask-wearing in indoor and congregated settings.


IAEM president Fergal Hickey said the situation in Irish hospitals at present is the worst he has seen in his career. "The situation at present is intolerable for all who work in our hospitals. Our hospitals have been hanging together by a thread of goodwill of staff but that is about to snap."

Speaking on Wednesday, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said he did not think it was appropriate to impose new legal restrictions and said the focus should be on vaccines and encouraging people to isolate if they were sick.

“We expect it will peak in the next weeks. We certainly will be in a much better position by the end of April,” he said.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin confirmed in the Dáil that pandemic emergency powers to restrict travel and stop public gatherings , which were signed into law in March 2020, would expire at midnight on Thursday night.

Peak of wave

There are signs the current wave may be peaking. The combined number of positive results from PCR and antigen each day, though an under-estimate of the real number of infections, has started to decline. Hospitalisations are rising more slowly and ICU numbers are holding steady.

The number of patients with the virus who were in hospital on Wednesday morning was 1,610, up from 1,601 the previous day. The number of virus patients in intensive care (ICU) dropped one to 49.

On Wednesday the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) was notified of a further 5,381 PCR-confirmed cases of Covid-19. In addition, 7,127 people registered a positive antigen result through the HSE’s online portal on Tuesday.

Covid-19 outbreaks rose last week to their highest level so far this year, new figures show.

However, the 201 outbreaks reported over the past seven days may in part be due to under-reporting of outbreaks in the previous week, which included a bank holiday, according to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre.

There were big increases in the number of outbreaks reported in hospitals, nursing homes and residential institutions, though the size of outbreaks tended to be smaller than in January.

Reported outbreaks

No outbreaks in schools or childcare were reported last week, though this may be due to the sector not requiring prioritisation by public health officials for further investigation.

There were 36 outbreaks in hospitals, more than double the previous week’s tally of 15. Hospitals in the east accounted for 22 outbreaks, while seven occurred in the northeast.

Outbreaks in nursing homes rose to 60, from 36 the previous week. The biggest outbreaks involved 61 cases. Nursing homes in the southeast were disproportionately affected, with 14 outbreaks.

At present, 349 of the roughly 600 nursing homes have an open outbreak that is still formally under investigation, according to the HPSC.

The biggest increase was in residential institutions, where 76 outbreaks were recorded, compared with 43 the previous week.

There were also 55 outbreaks in centres for disability and 15 in mental health units.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.