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More than 1,500 people now in hospital with Covid-19 as Tánaiste agrees HSE facing 'darkest month'

The Tánaiste said this morning that “we’re in the middle of the third wave” which will be worse than the first wave.

Updated Jan 11th 2021, 10:20 AM

cases hospital Latest hospitalisation figures. Source: Covid-19 Data Hub

THERE ARE CURRENTLY 1,575 people in hospital with Covid-19 across the country, according to latest figures as Tánaiste Leo Varadkar agreed this morning that the HSE is facing its “darkest month”. 

Hospital numbers have continued in an upward spike in recent weeks with 104 Covid-19 patients admitted to hospital in the past 24 hours. 

26 people were discharged from hospital during this period. 

The latest figures were released on the Covid-19 Data Hub this morning and are up to date as of 8am.

There are 128 people in ICU, according to latest figures from yesterday evening. 19 people were admitted to ICU during a recent 24-hour period and four people were discharged. 

Speaking to Dermot and Dave on Today FM this morning, the Tánaiste said that we’re “in the middle of the third wave of the pandemic [which] will be worse than the first”. Varadkar did say, however, we’re “better prepared” for this third wave than the first. 

He also said that it was likely current restrictions could remain in place until the end of February, given the high incidence of the disease and the pressure on the health service. 

“Hospitals are very much under pressure but are coping,” he said. “The worry that we have is the situation is still deteriorating because the people who are being admitted to hospital now got this disease probably about two weeks ago, just after the Christmas period.” 

Varadkar said it was “difficult to know” why this third wave appears to be worse than the first and second waves of the virus in terms of case numbers and hospitalisations.

UK variant 

Speaking on Newstalk this morning, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said there is “huge pressure” on hospitals right now. 

He said the rise of the UK variant, increased socialisation over the Christmas period as well as the seasonality issues of people gathering indoors has created a “prefect storm” for the spread of the virus. 

Martin said he was not blaming it all on the new variant, but said he believes it is a “very significant factor”.

While data showed that the variant was only detected in a small number of cases before Christmas, the Taoiseach said subsequent and more recent evidence shows its presence is on the rise. 

The Taoiseach said the Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan told him this morning that out of 92 samples of the most recent data samples showed that 42 were positive with the new variant. “So let’s not dismiss it either,” added Martin.

Varadkar said it was a “sad truth” that some procedures would now not go ahead in hospitals, but added that the likes of cancer care is being prioritised.

He also said a deal struck with nursing homes would help to ease pressure on the health service. 

Private ICU capacity

On Friday, an agreement was reached between the HSE and 16 private hospitals to provide additional capacity if necessary during the next 12 months. 

Under the agreement, the hospitals agreed to supply, depending on the incidence of the disease, up to 30% of their capacity. 

“The additional capacity created by this agreement is critical to enabling the public health system cope with large scale surges in the incidences of the disease,” Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said. 

The HSE will be responsible for triggering the arrangement which will be determined on the basis of metrics “which objectively indicate that a Covid-19 surge event is imminent or present”.

Covid-19 hospitalisation figures topped 1,000 for the first time last Thursday. The previous peak during the pandemic was 881 Covid-19 patients in hospital in mid-April. 

The HSE CEO Paul Reid said yesterday that private hospitals have already started taking in urgent non-Covid care.

Gardaí this morning issued a reminder to people travelling to or from a Covid-19 test to keep their windows closed if stopped at a garda checkpoint.

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Gardaí said people should display a test appointment through the window and “wear a face covering also if you have symptoms of Covid-19″. 

Vaccinations

Speaking to Today FM, the Tánaiste also said that it was hoped that 40,000 people would receive a Covid-19 vaccination this week. 

Varadkar said that supply is a “constraint” at present, with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine the only one currently available in Ireland. Last week, European authorities approved the Moderna vaccine and a decision on the Astrazeneca one is expected at the end of this month.

He said that “some countries are ahead of us” but that it “can’t happen much faster” at present. 

He said that from March or April, the vaccine will be administered in GPs, pharmacies and vaccination centres and it wouldn’t be until “after Easter” when people who are generally well and under the age of 65 will begin to receive the vaccine. 

Vaccinating the most at-risk groups now will be a “game changer” in reducing hospitalisations and deaths, Varadkar said. 

The Tánaiste also indicated that any easing of restrictions before the end of February may only be partial. 

“Let’s take the pressure off hospitals,” he said, adding that the “risk of opening up and ending up in a fourth wave” should not be taken. 

Varadkar added that he thinks this summer “will be a good summer” and that the effect of the vaccines will be seen in the second quarter of this year. 

With reporting from Sean Murray

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