Coronavirus: Ten more deaths confirmed in Republic

Death toll rises to 46 as HSE prepares for surge in cases over next two weeks

A further 10 people have died as a result of the coronavirus, bringing the death toll in the Republic to 46.

Eight men and two women died of the virus, which is also known as Covid-19, according to the latest figures released by the State’s National Public Health Emergency Team.

Six of the deaths occurred in the east of the country, three in the northwest and one in the south. The median age of the 10 deaths was 77.

State health officials said there have been a further 200 confirmed cases, bringing to 2,615 the number of known cases of Covid-19 in the country.


Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said: “Today, we are informed of a further 10 deaths. Our condolences are with the family and friends of all patients who have died as a result of Covid-19.

“While we continue to build our capacity for intensive care, our strategy remains to prevent people from needing intensive care in the first place.

“We know the virus will not survive if we prevent it from passing among ourselves. The enhanced restrictions announced on Friday aim to slow down and restrict the spread of the virus.”

The State’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre published a breakdown of fatalities showing that, of the 33 people who had died of the virus as of March 26th, 29 were over the age of 65.

The four remaining people were spread across different age groups: one person was aged between 25 and 34, one between 35 and 44, one between 45 and 54 and one between 55 and 64.

Of 67 requiring critical care by this date, 24 were over the age 65. One person aged between 5 and 14 was in ICU with a Covid-19 infection, and three aged between 25 and 34, six between 35 and 44, 18 between 45 and 54 and 15 between 55 and 64.

The 2,216 cases reported as of midnight on Friday, March 27th included 103 clusters of infection involving 379 cases.

The median age of these confirmed cases was 47 years.

Just over a quarter of these infected people, or 564 cases, have been hospitalised and, of those, 77 had been admitted to ICU by that date. The number in ICU has since risen to 88.

Dublin had the highest number of cases at 1,233, or 56 per cent of the 2,216 cases analysed, followed by Cork with 208 cases, or 9 per cent.

Community transmission accounts for 51 per cent of cases, close contacts with an infected person 24 per cent and travel abroad, 25 per cent.

Some 506 of confirmed cases, or almost one in four, are associated with healthcare workers.

The first Aer Lingus flight to China to collect a batch of personal protective equipment (PPE) for the Irish health service arrived in Dublin on Sunday afternoon. The HSE will begin distributing about 1.6 million masks, 400,000 eye protectors, 265,000 gowns and 254,000 gloves from Sunday evening. Minister for Health Simon Harris said up to 10 further flights delivering more equipment were due between now and Wednesday.

ICU capacity

The HSE is preparing for a surge of coronavirus cases with 1,200 critical care beds but is unsure by how much the State’s intensive care unit (ICU) capacity will be exceeded when the pandemic peaks here, possibly in mid-April.

The State’s highest-ranking healthcare officials, at a briefing on Sunday morning, said there were up to 1,200 ICU beds in the country’s public and private hospitals. But they were unable to say by how much ICU capacity in the system could be exceeded by in a surge of severe Covid-19 infections.

The HSE said no single ICU unit in an Irish hospital had reached capacity yet. But HSE chief executive Paul Reid told RTÉ in an interview after the briefing that the possibility of existing ICU beds being full in just over two weeks was “a very significant concern”.

There are currently 88 critically ill patients with Covid-19 in ICU beds, of whom 66 per cent are in Dublin hospitals. This is almost a seven-fold increase in the past 10 days.

The rapid increase in the number of sick patients needing ICU beds was one of the reasons why the Government directed people to “stay at home” with a range of new restrictions last Friday.

There are close to 500 dedicated ICU beds in the public and private hospitals, Dr Reid told a briefing.

Dr Reid said the public health system had 1,000 ventilators – essential life-saving medical devices to keep people alive as they fight Covid-19 – and another 200 to 300 in the State’s private hospitals.

The HSE has secured a further 300 ventilators and would be “securing” a further 100 a week over the coming weeks, said Dr Reid.

‘Self-isolation facility’

The HSE has turned the Citywest hotel and conference centre into “a self-isolation facility” that will start taking affected people from all around Dublin and elsewhere later this week.

Health officials say the initial focus of people moving into the facility will be on individuals from Dublin because of the concentration of Covid-19 infections in the city.

The hotel has 750 bedrooms to accommodate three categories of people who cannot self-isolate at home: individuals showing no symptoms, individuals with mild symptoms awaiting a test result, and individuals who have tested positive for Covid-19 but who have mild symptoms.

The HSE officials said there was a second, separate facility of “overflow-stepdown” beds on the same extensive west Dublin hotel campus that can accommodate 450 people.

“They will only be used if we run out of capacity across our system,” said the HSE’s chief operations officer, Anne O’Connor.

The Citywest facility would accommodate affected people from Dublin and elsewhere but the HSE was looking at opening similar facilities in other Irish cities.

“We are looking at a number of these facilities, so particularly in our main urban areas – Cork, Limerick, Galway in particular – and we are working on a common plan towards them,” she said.

Dr Sarah Doyle, the HSE public health consultant, said it was “critical” that people over 70 years of age and the extremely medically vulnerable comply with the Government’s “cocooning” direction to remain within their homes for the next 14 days because of the limited ICU capacity.

“The recommendations around cocooning are critical because those are the people who will be the ones who will require ICU beds and who may be at risk of dying if they get infected,” she said.

Asked if the restrictions on public movement may have to be extended beyond Easter Sunday, April 12th, Dr Doyle said this depended on public compliance.

“If people can comply with those [recommendations], then what is being done may be adequate, but it needs to be kept under constant review,” she said at the briefing.

Mr Reid warned that the country’s hospitals and health system would come “under very significant pressure” over the coming weeks.

It was “impossible to predict” when the peak of coronavirus cases would hit the system, he said. The HSE is working towards a peak in the middle of next month, between April 10th and 14th.

“A peak will come and go whenever, but we will continue to have an exceptionally large number of people availing of our services once that peak has passed,” said Ms O’Connor.

The HSE disclosed that 15,500 people are waiting to be tested for Covid-19 since the Government changed the criteria for testing to people displaying two symptoms of the infection. There are 5,000 tests being carried out every day.

More than 33,000 people have been tested since March 16th.

The HSE has 46 testing centres in operation and a further six will come on stream next week. Up to 60,000 testing kits have been delivered and a further 100,000 will be delivered each week.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times