Thousands of hospital beds needed in event of January Covid surge - report

Gardaí say they have begun issuing fines to people refusing to wear face masks

Prof Philip Nolan, chair of the Nphet epidemiological modelling advisory group: ‘Nothing inevitable’ about a large increase in cases in January.  Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

Prof Philip Nolan, chair of the Nphet epidemiological modelling advisory group: ‘Nothing inevitable’ about a large increase in cases in January. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

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Thousands of extra hospital beds will be needed by the end of January in the event of a significant increase in transmission of Covid-19, a new report to Government has warned.

“The system and those who work within it are at the edge of their resilience,” according to the analysis of the state of the healthcare system written by the HSE and the Department of Health.

If the reproductive number of the virus increases to 1.8, there would be a requirement for 610 critical care beds and 3,900 general acute beds by the end of January, it says.

The reproductive number, a measure of how much the disease is transmitting in the community, currently stands at close to 1, according to public health officials.

They described the situation at present as stable, 10 days after the easing of Level 5 restrictions, but warned things remained fragile until a vaccine arrives.

While mobility has increased, this was not yet associated with an increase in close contacts, showing people were behaving cautiously, National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) officials said on Thursday night.

 Prof Philip Nolan, chair of the Nphet epidemiological modelling advisory group, said there was a “huge difference” between a reproduction number of 1.1 and one of 1.4, but it could result from people having just one extra contact a day.

‘Extra cautious’

There remains a “high risk” of another surge unless the reproduction number is kept close to 1, he warned, urging people to remain “extra cautious” and to limit their contacts.

The epidemiological situation remains worrying... We must therefore sustain our efforts to counter the spread of the virus with a view to preventing further waves of infections

But there was “nothing inevitable” about a large increase in cases in January if this advice was followed.

Flu is not currently circulating in the community, thereby easing pressure on hospitals, the HSE said.

Another 15 coronavirus-related deaths were reported on Thursday, 10 of which date from this month. A further 310 cases were also reported.

EU leaders on Thursday warned measures to curb the spread of Covid-19 must be kept up to prevent new waves of infection taking hold before vaccines can be rolled out.

“The arrival of vaccines does not mean that the pandemic is over,” read a joint declaration by the 27 national leaders as they met in Brussels to co-ordinate on how to roll out vaccines.

“The epidemiological situation remains worrying... We must therefore sustain our efforts to counter the spread of the virus with a view to preventing further waves of infections.”

Rates remain high across the continent, with almost all of Europe marked as “red” on the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s traffic light map, with Finland, Norway, Iceland and Ireland rare exceptions.

The EU leaders agreed to co-ordinate preparations for “a gradual lifting of restrictions and a return to normal travel...when the sanitary situation allows”.

Gardaí said they have begun issuing fines to people refusing to wear face masks, almost seven weeks after the new offences were created.

Since Monday, when the refusal to wear face coverings was added to the Fixed Charge Notice (FCN) system, three people have been issued with fines across the Republic.

However, members of the force are still unable to issue fines to people holding house parties.

IT changes

The IT changes required to add house parties to the FCN system are not complete. Furthermore, because the provisions are so complex and unprecedented, Garda Headquarters has told gardaí to take any house party cases to the DPP for advice rather than handle them themselves with fines, as was intended by Government

Sixty cases of Covid-19 were detected in schools last week following mass testing, up from 38 the previous week, the latest HSE data shows.

Updated figures on the Government’s data hub show the 14-day incidence rate in Carndonagh, Co Donegal at 518.7 per 100,000 population. The figure in the Inishowen town has more than doubled from last week (271.2) and is almost 6.5 times the national rate of 80.2 per 100,000 population.

Second-worst hit for transmission, according to the figures, is Letterkenny, Co Donegal, with a rate of 322.2 – up from 288.7 last week after having dipped – followed by Claremorris, Co Mayo, which stands at 257.9.

Callan/Thomastown in Co Kilkenny has a rate of 232.7.