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Daily Covid case numbers will reach 4,000 today or tomorrow, Varadkar says

The Tánaiste said the uptick can partially be explained by a backlog of unverified cases.

Image: Leah Farrell

THE TÁNAISTE HAS revealed that Covid-19 case numbers will likely reach around 4,000 today or tomorrow.

Leo Varadkar explained that the uptick can partially be explained by a backlog of unverified cases.

“We will see cases hit around 4,000 today or tomorrow. They’ve been heading that way and there’s a backlog of unverified cases,” he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

Varadkar added that those high case numbers do not mean the same thing as they did last winter as hospital numbers have been “pretty stable”.

It’s telling us that the vaccine wall is working. Infections and cases aren’t turning into hospitalisations to the extent they might.

The Tánaiste refused to rule out the possibility that fresh restrictions could be imposed but noted that the Government doesn’t intend on doing so.

“It would be reckless to do so [rule out restrictions], but I can say that it’s not our intention and we don’t expect to have to reimpose restrictions before Christmas.”

Varadkar said the vaccine booster programme is going “really well”, but added that he believes that it may need to be extended to cover those under 60 with chronic conditions.

“Maybe even everyone under 60,” he added.

He also welcomed the news that the UK has authorised the use of the molnupiravir pill, which has been shown to successfully treat Covid-19.

“I’ve always said that we would have to get through another winter before we can say this pandemic is behind us. 

“I think we can get through it without having to impose restrictions, but that does depend on everyone doing the right thing, including the government,” he added.

Yesterday, health officials reported 3,024 new cases of Covid-19.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) advised people to reduce their close contacts this winter.

Speaking to reporters this morning however, Further Education Minister Simon Harris said “it’s not for the government to stand up at a podium and tell young people how to regulate their social lives in a living with Covid phase, because that’s where we’re now at”.

He urged those who have not yet been vaccinated to do so, stating that he has visited college campuses and visited multiple vaccination clinics where students and others are coming forward for the first time.

“They’re not anti-vaxxers, it’s just for whatever reason, they haven’t gotten around to being fully vaccinated. We’ve seen every time we set up vaccination clinics in colleges, thousands of students have come forward to get vaccinated, and at least 50% of the students are getting their first jabs,” he said.

“So students, all people, it’s not an age debate, all people, need to use common sense and cop on,” he said. 

Harris said he believes the point the Chief Medical Officer was making is we know how the virus spreads in certain environments, and it’s easier for it to spread in environments where you’re not keeping your distance and when you’re not wearing your mask.

The minister said young people have been extraordinary in the restraint they have shown and the sacrifices they have made.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said it was about using the basic public health measures as advised last week, like mask wearing and hand sanitizer, along with the new advice issued yesterday for people to reduce their close contacts.

Electives 

About 10 elective operations per week are being cancelled per site across some 21 hospitals in recent weeks due to pressure on emergency departments from Covid-19, according to the HSE. 

Also speaking on Morning Ireland, Liam Woods, Director of Acute Hospitals at the HSE said “the demand on the emergency departments independent of what’s happening with Covid is also now very high”.

Woods added that there is significant pressure on the health care system for both normal, planned surgeries and for people presenting at A&E, as well as on GP practices.

This is “reflecting in the hospital admissions at the emergency department,” Woods said, adding, “we’re seeing increases of between 10 or 15% of people attending hospitals,” compared to 2019.

About one-third of ICU capacity is currently taken up by Covid-19 patients. If that increases, the automatic effect is to reduce elective care, Woods said. 

These increases are particularly high in people over the age of 75. 

What’s the plan?

In the short term, the HSE is using up to 1,000 additional beds per week in private hospitals to help meet the growing demand. 

“Some of that allows us to address some of the delays and access to planned surgery,” he said. 

These additional beds are being used for patients who need emergency surgery, and as overflow for A&E departments. 

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In the medium term, with treatment purchase funds, the HSE will be looking to buy additional health care to reduce waiting lists in hospitals. Right now though, that’s not possible due to increased pressure on the system. 

With Covid-19 case numbers rising in the last two weeks, Woods added, there may be a lag of a week or two before pressure on these hospitals increases again. 

The combination of public and private hospital facilities will be used to treat any surge in the coming weeks, as well as “unfortunately having to constrict some planned surgeries in the near term,” he said.

Patients in need of intensive care and surgeries for some cancer-related and cardiothoracic issues will still be treated, “no matter what is happening”. 

One of the biggest challenges in the coming weeks will also be the impact on staff in the health system, Woods said.  

The HSE’s winter plan — the blueprint for managing flu season and now Covid-19 — will likely be coming out in the coming days, he said. 

About the author:

Céimin Burke and Zuzia Whelan

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