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HSE CEO Stephen Mulvany Sam Boal/
Winter Dose

HSE on 'higher state of alert' as Covid-19 and other illnesses cause concern

Covid-19 hospitalisations and outbreaks in nursing homes have increased in recent weeks.

THE HSE IS on a “higher state of alert” ahead of Christmas as threats posed by Covid-19 in Ireland rise.

Covid-19 hospitalisations and outbreaks in nursing homes have increased in recent weeks, stirring apprehension in the HSE as people are expected to socialise heavily over the Christmas and New Year period.

The spread of other illnesses such as the flu which were largely contained during Covid-19 restrictions in 2020 and 2021 also risk putting strain on the health system.

Speaking at a HSE briefing this afternoon, HSE CEO Stephen Mulvany said that “we are still seeing impacts of Covid-19”.

“It’s not something we wanted to see continue but it is a reality that we have to face up [to], a challenge in the system, alongside influenza,” he said.

“The key message is that the trajectory is increasing and certainly we’re moving to a higher state of alert for the period post-Christmas into January so that we can respond to it.

“We’re continuing to see high attendances and we’re very concerned in terms of making sure we give priority to older people that are under pressure. We know they suffer most in terms of wait [times] and also need access to hospitals.

“There’s a whole range of actions that are being implemented by our hospitals and by our community healthcare organisations in terms of our winter plan and we’re continuing to roll out vaccines around influenza and Covid.”

The Department of Health releases new Covid-19 case figures on a weekly basis each Wednesday.

In the most recent update, the rolling 7-day average of cases confirmed through PCR tests was 329 (meaning that across the previous seven days, an average of 329 people tested positive each day).

As of this morning, 489 people with Covid-19 were in hospital, including 88 new confirmed cases in the last 24 hours, while 31 were discharged.

11 people with the virus are in intensive care units, with one admission in the last 24 hours and no discharges.

The peak number of people with Covid-19 in hospital in 2022 was at the end of March with 1,624 infected patients.

The figure dropped to its lowest in May when there were only 167 patients with Covid-19 before rising to over 1,000 again in July and then hovering around the two to four hundreds since August.

151222 1 HSE HSE

Outbreaks of Covid-19 in nursing homes have steadily increased over the last several weeks, reaching 26, though they decreased in hospitals week-on-week from 23 to 16.

Various groups of people are entitled to receive a booster dose of a vaccine against Covid-19.

A first booster is available to anyone aged 12 and over and to children aged five to 11 with weak immune systems.

The eligibility criteria for a second booster include being aged between 50 and 64; 12 or older with a condition that means a high risk of serious illness from Covid-19; pregnant (from 16 weeks); a healthcare worker; 12 or older living in a long-term care facility.

A third booster dose is available for people aged 65 and older or aged 12 and older with a weak immune system.

As of 13 Deceber, 39% of 50 to 64-year-olds and 77% of over 65s have received a second booster. 42% of over 65s have also received a third booster.

In addition to Covid-19, other illnesses the HSE is monitoring include influenza (the flu), RSV and Strep A.

Dr Éamonn O’Moore Direction of National Health Protection said “we’ve been talking for a while about a multi-pathogen winter and this is because over the last couple of years, Covid has been such a monolithic presence that it has really been the dominant force that’s driven respiratory infections”.

“This year is more, in many ways, typical of an average winter in that we’re now going to see more viruses and other infections circulating,” he said.

“We need to be mindful of those and also take appropriate public health and health actions.”

The HSE is seeing an “exponential growth curve” that is generally “typical with influenza” but which was not a significant issue during 2020 and 2021 due to the effect of Covid-19 restrictions limiting the spread of the influenza virus.

He said the flu vaccine “can help to flatten the curve at this time” and encourage uptake of flu vaccines, particularly for elderly and younger people who face “the highest rates of infection and impacts of infection”.

Among over 65s, 72.7% have received a flu vaccine, but a “concerning story” among younger people shows only 10.9% of two to 17-year-olds have been vaccinated.

Growing cases of RSV in addition to Covid-19 are putting high pressure on children’s hospitals, the briefing outlined. The highest rates of RSV are among infants less than a year old, one to four-year-olds, and people aged 65 and over.

65 cases of Strep A have been recorded in 2022, 31% of which were among children.

Up to yesterday, the HSE has recorded four Strep A deaths among adults and two deaths among children this year, one of which occurred earlier in 2022 and is not connected to a more recent case this month.

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