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Stephen Donnelly

'We don’t know how bad it’s going to get': Additional ICU surge capacity being built up, says Donnelly

The Health Minister said NPHET modelling estimates over 200 people will be in ICU in a few months.

THE DEPARTMENT OF Health is to begin the process of building extra surge capacity in intensive care units as modelling suggests that some 200 Covid-19 patients could be in ICU in a few months’ time, the Health Minister has said.

Stephen Donnelly was speaking in the Seanad ahead of the passing of legislation that will reopen indoor hospitality for the first time this year but for fully vaccinated or Covid-recovered persons only.

The government is planning to have the legislation signed into law next week, with the rules in place for 26 July. 

Ahead of today’s vote, which passed with 29 votes to seven, Donnelly said new modelling from the national public health emergency team (Nphet) shows that over 200 people would be in ICU in just a few months time.

The Minister told the Seanad that “we don’t know how bad it’s going to get” but this modelling is the “second-best scenario”. The government is looking at a lot of different models at the moment, in terms of the possible impact of the Delta variant.

“We know that the numbers in hospitals have doubled in the last three weeks, and because of exponential growth, they will continue to double,” said Donnelly. 

“We’re going to have to start building up additional surge capacity for ICU now, in case it happens.”

He added that the range given for fatalities for three months is between 335 and 1,760.

“Now, in the War of Independence about 2,300 people died, put it in context of what the deaths of 1,760 people would mean. So we’ve got to do everything we can to push that down and down and down.”

Rapid increase 

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan warned those who are not fully vaccinated to “take every precaution this weekend”, as the country reported 1,179 Covid-19 cases in the last 24 hours.

Donnelly told the Seanad earlier today that the infection rate among the 16 to 18 year old cohort is now the same infection rates as at the peak in the October wave and “the line is vertical on the page”. He added that the line is also vertical for the 19 to 24 age group. 

“We’re looking at really quick infection rates for these groups and thank God most of them will be fine because of their age, but they won’t all be fine, and many of them will get long Covid – and we’re really only beginning to understand it. 

Professor Philip Nolan, chair of the Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, said this evening that there is a “very rapid” increase in incidence in those aged 16 to 34-year-olds.

“The rise in those aged 16-18 years is exceptional. Please do everything you can to stay safe, and to encourage and support those around you to stay safe too,” Nolan tweeted this evening. 

Amid the rising cases of Covid-19, Taoiseach Micheál Martin told reporters that Ireland has been the slowest in Europe to reopen society and that this has been a “wise” approach. 

“The Delta variant is here, there will be an increase in case numbers, we’re watching very carefully the impact on hospitalisations and on ICUs,” Martin said. 

The online booking system for Covid-19 vaccines has today opened for the 25-29 age cohort

Those registering through the portal will receive a Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccine.

People aged 18-34 are also currently able to register with a pharmacy to receive the one-dose Janssen vaccine, subject to supply.

The HSE is also planning to roll out an opt-in system to allow those aged 18-34 to register on its vaccine portal to receive an AstraZeneca or Janssen vaccine in a vaccination centre.

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