Second surge of Covid-19 would be ‘very difficult to manage’, say health officials

Number of patients on wards and ICU ‘significantly higher’ than at end of March

Dr Tony Holohan, Dr Siobhán Kennelly, and Prof Philip Nolan at a press conference at the Department of Health on Thursday. Photograph: Collins

Dr Tony Holohan, Dr Siobhán Kennelly, and Prof Philip Nolan at a press conference at the Department of Health on Thursday. Photograph: Collins

 

The pressure being exerted on the hospital system by Covid-19 is greater than it was when emergency measures were introduced, meaning the healthcare system would “find it very difficult to manage” if a second surge of infection occurred, senior health officials have said.

Prof Philip Nolan, who is chair of the Department of Health’s Covid-19 modelling group, last night emphasised that the number of Covid-19 patients on hospital wards and in intensive care is “significantly higher” than where it was at the end of March.

While these numbers are dropping rather than increasing, senior public health officials remain concerned by the load on the hospital system.

“We remain optimistic that those numbers will come down further, but it’s quite clear that they are very significantly elevated compared to where we started, and it is still a huge workload on our healthcare system and a very significant risk at present.”

Positive trends

In the week before measures were introduced, the number of people in hospital grew from 170 to 440, while those in intensive care jumped from 50 to 80. On Wednesday evening, there were 1,065 confirmed or suspected cases in Irish hospitals, and a further 120 confirmed or suspected cases in critical care beds.

Despite the positive trends in recent data, this pressure, combined with persistent infection in the community, contributes to the case against the relaxation of measures, chief medical officer Tony Holohan said.

“We’re seeing around 100-200 cases per day from the population in general. Those are close to the figures we were seeing back in March when we introduced these measures,” Dr Holohan said. “Notwithstanding the progress we have made, we think the case hasn’t arisen yet to give us a reasonable belief that now is the time to lift restrictions.

“On every measure we are sharing with you, we have seen improvement, and that’s all giving us encouragement, but we need to get down to a lower baseline.”

The public health officials were speaking after it was confirmed that a further 43 people with Covid-19 had died in the State, bringing the total number of deaths to 1,232. Another 359 cases were confirmed, bringing the total number of cases to 20,612.

Median age

As of midnight on Tuesday, 58 per cent of the cases were female and 42 per cent were male. The median age of confirmed cases is 49, and 13 per cent, or 2,706, have been hospitalised, with 360 admitted to ICU.

Dr Holohan said the number of people in hospitals and intensive care units is “persistent . . . and we’d like to see that dropping”.

The chief medical officer also indicated that preparations are being made to further broaden the criteria for testing for Covid-19, which will lead to more people being referred for testing. He said that the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) will consider today whether to remove membership of a priority group as a grounds for testing eligibility. If it does so, that will mark the most significant loosening of the criteria since the testing system was overwhelmed in March, leading to long delays in achieving test results.

Since then, the health service has been working to increase capacity, but against the backdrop of lower referrals, meaning this capacity has not been put under pressure.