A further eight coronavirus related deaths have been recorded in the State, as the total number of people who have tested positive for Covid-19 here since the pandemic began passed 150,000.
The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) on Monday reported 4,929 new cases of the virus, bringing the total number recorded in the Republic to 152,539. A total of 2,352 people have died with the disease.
The 14-day incidence of the disease now stands at 1,378.7 nationally. Last week, the State had the highest infection rate in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University.
A further 156 people were hospitalised with Covid-19 in the past 24 hours, Nphet said in a statement. As of 2pm on Monday, 1,582 Covid-19 patients are hospitalised, of which 146 are in ICU.
Of the cases reported on Monday, 1,513 were in Dublin, 695 in Cork, 320 in Limerick, 305 in Wexford, 225 in Galway and the remaining 1,871 cases were spread across all other counties.
The 150,000 milestone was passed as Ireland’s acute hospital system comes under greater pressure now than at any other time in living memory, according to the head of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association.
As the number of Covid-19 patients in hospitals continues to surge, Prof Alan Irvine warned that the system will soon be unable to cope.
“The acute hospital system is under the greatest pressure that it’s ever been in living memory, this is truly a national emergency in our acute hospitals,” Prof Irvine said, adding that patient numbers could double within days, which would be catastrophic.
Prof Irvine’s comments come as the number of Covid-19 patients in hospitals in the State overnight surpassed 1,500 for the first time.
HSE chief operations officer Anne O’Connor said the numbers in hospital will shortly double from the previous peak of 881, which occurred in April.
Surge in cases
The surge in cases is being attributed to increased socialising over Christmas and also the impact of new, more contagious, variants of the virus.
The so-called UK variant of Covid-19 accounted for almost half of a recent sample of positive cases subjected to additional testing, Taoiseach Micheál Martin told Newstalk radio.
Mr Martin said the chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said these tests showed this new variant accounted for 45 per cent of 92 samples, subject to additional testing, compared to 25 per cent in the week to January 3rd, and 9 per cent two weeks ago.
The Taoiseach also said people should wear face coverings when they are outdoors and in areas where people go to take exercise, which are quite crowded.
Some 3,500 HSE staff are unavailable for work as a result of the pandemic, along with 1,000 nursing home staff. These employees either have Covid-19 or are a close contact of someone who has tested positive.
This has led to the HSE having to close 600 beds in Irish hospitals due to a lack of staff, Ms O’Connor told Newstalk radio.
The surge in case numbers in the Republic since Christmas comes as the vaccine rollout continues and Ms O’Connor said almost 40,000 vaccines were administered last week, mostly to frontline healthcare workers.
This week will see the vaccination of all residents and staff in nursing homes with 68,000 vaccines expected to be administered by next Sunday, she said.
However, Ms O’Connor said the rate of vaccination was constrained by supply which is currently running at 40,000 doses a week.
Ms O’Connor also said there is no legal basis to make it mandatory for healthcare workers to get a Covid-19 test on a weekly basis.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said Ireland’s vaccination programme has started slowly but said “we are catching up”.
He said that because nursing home residents account for more than half the deaths across Europe, the death rate can be reduced by 50 per cent by vaccinating those people and by protecting health care staff.
He said the rate of vaccination could be swiftly accelerated once the AstraZeneca vaccine becomes available in large quantities.
He said because this vaccine did not have to be stored at very low temperatures, vaccinations could be carried out by GPs and pharmacists.
Mass vaccination centres
“We know what our GPs and pharmacists can do, take the flu vaccine which they do every year – they’re able to vaccinate between 75,000 and 100,000 a week. If we can get that vaccine approved and to them – 100,000 a week is 400,000 a month, then we can start to use the mass vaccination centres.”
Mr Varadkar said the current vaccine rollout plan was based on supply we definitely know is coming. “If we know more is coming we can ramp up.”