Rise in Covid-19 cases is a ‘rain check’, warns HSE chief as 23 deaths reported

Surge comes as winter approaches and range of factors working against health service says HSE chief

Photograph: Leah Farrell/ Photocall Ireland

Photograph: Leah Farrell/ Photocall Ireland


A surge in Covid-19 infections recently is a “rain check” for the country, Paul Reid, chief executive of the Health Service Executive (HSE), has warned.

Latest figures from the CSO show there were 23 Covid-19 related deaths in the week to October 15th, of which 22 were among those aged 65 years and older

The number of weekly cases was 10,675, an increase of 13 per cent from the previous week. The highest number of new cases were in Dublin (2,638) and Cork (1,090). Those aged 14 or younger accounted for 22 per cent of cases, the same as the previous week

The increase in cases comes as winter approaches and a “range of factors are really working against us at the moment” in the health service, Mr Reid said.

Along with the high number of Covid cases which are “likely to rise”, there are also high numbers of people needing treatment for non-Covid conditions.

There are also early indications of respiratory illness in young children, which is an indicator of the same in the adult population, and also the first cases of flu are emerging.

“The last couple [of] weeks should be a very real rain check for us all,” said Mr Reid.

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While Covid-19 hospitalisations came down to 437 last night, with 88 in intensive care, Mr Reid said “that will grow over the coming weekend and most likely over the coming weeks.”

“If you look at the modelling and projections from Nphet (National Public Health Emergency Team), they are forecasting potentially 1,000 people in hospital, and 150 people in ICU, which really doesn’t look off the wall in terms of the trends we are seeing at the moment,” he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

“Our concern is particularly that lag effect that we are all used to seeing, where we have high levels of cases over the last two to three weeks, and how they will turn into hospitalisations over the coming few weeks.”

Mr Reid acknowledged Covid-related pressures on the health service – with 1,800 staff off – was already leading to cancellations of surgeries in University Hospital Galway and University Hospital Limerick.

But he said the level of vaccinations in society should prevent a return to a blanket cancellation on all non-Covid, non-emergency care, as happened during a wave of infections at the start of the year.

“Nobody expects, based on the level of protections we now have in society, to get where we were in January, where we had over 2,000 people in hospital, and 220 people in ICU,” he said.

“What we had to do then was completely cease all non-urgent care and non-Covid care.

“What we are doing now, going into the winter, is trying to sustain those levels of action in the public to ensure those numbers don’t materialise… to ensure elective care continues.”

Mr Reid cautioned that “surge capacity” in the health service was “not a magic switch” that can be pressed to deal with rising Covid admissions, but involved redeploying significant numbers of staff away from other care as well as closing wards.

“It would ultimately (cripple other areas of the health service) if we get there,” he said, but he insisted the public “can turn this around over the coming weeks” by returning to basic public health measures.

While the HSE welcomed the further easing of restrictions, Mr Reid said people need to continue to wear masks, social distance and clean hands to reduce transmission.

“If you are unvaccinated, you are at much higher risk, you put your family, your friends and society at higher risk,” he added.