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Dr Colm Henry: There was a 10-fold increase in people sick with Covid from start of December to January

As of yesterday, there are 1,620 people with Covid-19 in hospital, with 216 in ICU.

Image: Shutterstock/Alexandros Michailidis

THE HSE’S DR Colm Henry has said that there were 10 times more people sick with Covid-19 in hospitals between the beginning of December and the beginning of January.

At the beginning of December, Ireland was eased out of six weeks of Level 5 restrictions, to give citizens a break in the run up to Christmas. This lead to a surge in cases that the Government says wasn’t predicted by any worst-case scenarios.

The increase in cases has lead to a surge in hospitalisations; the highest number of people with Covid-19 in hospitals has been 2,023, recorded last Monday, with a peak of 221 people in ICUs.

“It’s the volume of sick people we’re seeing that’s completely unprecedented,” the HSE’s Clinical Operations Officer told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, calling it an “enormous increase in cases”.

Dr Henry said that due to staff shortages because of healthcare workers on sick leave or deemed close contacts of confirmed cases, the HSE is “limited” to the support it can give to nursing homes where there are outbreaks, as well as its own “extremely stretched” services.

As of yesterday, there are 1,620 people with Covid-19 in hospital, with 216 in ICU.

Updated figures on the Covid Data Hub have shown that there have been 76 admissions to hospitals in the previous 24 hours, and 16 admissions to ICUs.

Because there continues to be thousands of Covid-19 diagnosis per day, Dr Henry said that this would continue to translate into an increase in hospitalisations, an increase in intensive-care admissions, and an increase in deaths.

“So what doctors and nurses are seeing is a primarily is a much much greater volume of sick people – much greater than in surge one or two.”

“The virus doesn’t give you credit for good results, it doesn’t have any memory for that.”

Meanwhile, trade union Siptu said that it was informed last night that clinical placements for Year 1-3 student nurses and midwives are to be suspended until at least Monday 8 February, and are likely return on a phased basis.

Siptu said that the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly approve recommendations to introduce a €100 clinical placement grant for student nurses for working in hospitals during the pandemic, and asked for this to be backdated to September. 

Zero Covid

Health officials at last night’s briefing cautioned against advocating for a “Zero Covid” strategy, which would involve seeking to completely eliminate the virus and locking down borders to return to some level of “normalcy”.

Professor Philip Nolan said last night that it would be a “false promise” to say that this approach would lead to a move to Level One or “Zero” on the restrictions framework in a matter of months.

He said it would be a highly risky decision and that Ireland would “inevitably be a leaky country”, with a re-entry of disease during lax restrictions having the potential to cause damage.

There were 1,466 new cases of Covid-19 in Ireland confirmed yesterday, and 47 more people with the virus have died.

The R number is now estimated at 0.4-0.7. 

Testing

Construction company BAM has said that it will carry out weekly Covid-19 testing for all workers at the New Children’s Hospital site. It said more than 1,000 workers will be tested every week, with Irish company HealthWatch Screening.

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It is expected to identify small numbers of positive cases prior to any symptoms appearing, further reducing the risk of transmission and giving even greater security and confidence to all stakeholders involved in the project, the company said in a statement.

Vaccines

The rollout of vaccines to the population is the Government’s plan to returning life to as similar as it can be before the pandemic; today, the European Medicines Agency is set to approve the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for use in EU member states.

Around 3% of the population have now been vaccinated against Covid-19, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly told the Dáil yesterday.

With reporting from Lauren Boland.

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